By reviving three Atari games, Denny’s has become the latest brand to tap into collective nostalgia, which experts say can be a powerful motivator, but must be used strategically.
Diner chain Denny's and video game brand Atari have joined forces to tap into some Gen-X nostalgia and bring back classic arcade games with Denny's-themed twists.
Inspired by Denny's Greatest Hits Remixed menu, which includes some of the dining chain's "iconic dishes with new culinary spins" - like Red White and Blue Slam, Baja Moons Over My Hammy, and Tuscan Super Bird - three Atari games - Asteroids, Centipede, and Breakout - have been remixed. These include: Hashteroids, in which players must deliver 40 tons of condiments to the fourth planet in sector 7d; Centipup, in which a young boy finds a bottle of syrup and has the power to turn anything into a fried egg; and Take-Out, in which a wall of breakfast items blocks all take-out orders from their rightful owners.
The games are available on the Denny's mobile app for iPhone and Android devices.
The Atari games are one of several new features on Denny's "refreshed" Build Your Own mobile app, which the brand says allows users to personalize the app, including the homepage layout, with a variety of themes and interactive elements like the Museum of Diner Art, as well as a restaurant finder and menus.
Per Google Play, users can give the Denny's app "a classic feel with this old-school woodgrain look and color scheme from the original Atari console" and the app has 10,000 to 50,000 downloads as of July 2.
Joe Laszlo, senior director of the Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence at the IAB, says this is an important feature because mobile phones are such personal devices.
"[One] stumbling block that some brands have faced in the market is that they intend to appeal to the average consumer, but there isn't an average consumer on mobile," he says. "Some customized features...can definitely add to an app's usefulness, entertainment value, and longevity."
In a prepared statement, Frances Allen, chief brand officer for Denny's, said, "We're constantly looking to provide a fresh take on tradition for our guests, and this partnership with Atari allows us to extend the fun beyond our menu, and add a new spin on classic gameplay."
A Denny's rep was not available for further comment by deadline.
Denny's is certainly not the only brand to utilize nostalgia lately. Online car marketplace AutoTrader.com is using The Dukes of Hazzard in new TV spots, quick-service chain Wendy's is incorporating '90s crooners Boyz II Men and Jon Secada in the latest iteration of its #PretzelLoveSongs campaign, and electronics chain Radio Shack had one of the most popular Super Bowl ads this year with lots of beloved characters from the '80s.
"I think it's a hilarious campaign aimed squarely at my generation," says Laszlo of Denny's Atari partnership. "I grew up on Atari, so it definitely pushes the right sentimental buttons for someone in my demographic."
He likens the branded use of nostalgic elements to companies that try to make viral videos.
"You can't necessarily always predict what's going to be a success and there's definitely a potential for nostalgia overload. And if suddenly every brand starts resurrecting Three's Company or Diff'rent Strokes, people will start to tune it out," Laszlo says. "Companies have to be careful how they do it and make sure it's distinct and stands out."
In addition, Laszlo notes mobile games are a key activity across all demographics.
"We see brands try to do this all the time and most of their efforts fall flat," Laszlo says. "To be a success, the branded app...has to deliver clear value to the end user [in either utility] or entertainment, which is where the Denny's app falls in. They picked a great partner with Atari and it looks like it's very entertaining and one that definitely resonates with the target demographic and has a lot of great ingredients."
In addition, Laszlo says companies that launch apps can't forget to market them to make them stand out in very crowded app stores. That means Denny's needs to also do some TV, print, or in-store advertising to help drive adoption.
And that still may not translate to sales.
The challenge for brands with apps is that consumers may love the concept and use the app regularly, but they still may not change their affinity for the brand or their likelihood to actually purchase a brand's core product, Laszlo says. But he notes the "pass-along effect" is still powerful in that one consumer may not be interested, but his or her friends may become more likely to make a purchase as the result of seeing a shared post.
According to Laszlo, another interesting factor to consider is app longevity and how long a campaign is meant to run, because brands can potentially have more of a long-term relationship with consumers through an app.
"You can download the Denny's games and love them for a year or two. In the back of Denny's mind and the agency's mind, where does this go in the long run?" he asks.
"A year from now, do we care? Is this a portal for Denny's to build a long-term relationship with some of its biggest fans and some of Atari's biggest fans? There's no right answer, but thinking of an app as a long-term customer relationship tool is important as a brand designs an app strategy."
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Lisa Lacy is senior staff writer at ClickZ. In addition to ClickZ, her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Luxury Spot, LearnVest, MarthaStewart.com, GoodHousekeeping.com, amNewYork, and The Wall Street Journal. She's a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism.
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