Denny's keeps slammin' it ... all night long

In an effort to increase its flow of late-night customers, 24-hour restaurant chain Denny's is using an interesting new marketing technique: corporate branding with famous rock stars.

This move makes a lot of sense. After all, Denny's has always had something of a Dr. Jekyll/Mister Hyde personality: during the day, it's the go-to place for old folks to hang out, and the perfect spot for a family to fill up after church. In the sunlight, it's all that is wholesome and decent.

After the sun goes down, however, Denny's transforms. Somewhere around midnight, it becomes the haunt of night-crawling vampires, looking for sustenance. Along with competitors like Waffle House and the occasional IHOP, it is the perfect place for all-night-studying, all-night-partying people in their late teens and '20s to catch a decent, consistently-prepared meal.
Personally, I can remember numerous occasions when, following the closure of bars, my friends and I would descend upon the nearest 24-hour-eatery in search of food and a few more minutes of fun. One time, I ordered the entire left side of the Hardee's menu. Good times.

In many ways, Denny's makeover isn't a particularly new concept. After all, Waffle House has spent the last few decades trying to cultivate the feel of a greasy honky-tonk. Between the chain's gum-snapping waitresses and country-music-heavy jukeboxes, the place is always putting out a strong, energetic vibe, be it 5 PM or 5 AM. For that matter, Waffle House's sponsorship of various country music nicely mirrors Denny's decision to work with rockers.

Conversely, regardless of the hour, IHOP always has a blandness generally associated with Purgatory's waiting room.

Denny's take is distinct, in that it seems to be reaching out to a more urban, mainstream crowd. While some locations will apparently be piping in country music, many will focus on rock. Further, the company's new late-night menu will offer dishes inspired by famous musical acts. In fact, it is apparently experimenting with an entire menu designed by Jewel.

While it is cool that Denny's is reaching out to youngsters, their choice of Jewel seems a little odd. I don't want to criticize the singer -- of all the current recording artists that closely resemble Renee Zellweger, I consider her the absolute best. Still, she peaked over a decade ago and her last album, released in 2006, has yet to go gold. I wonder how much pull she will have with an audience that was approximately 12 when she was famous. Basically, she has all the cultural currency of David Hasselhoff paired with none of the delicious irony.

On the other hand, Rascal Flatts had a number one hit earlier this year and Good Charlotte, another Denny's group, had a top ten album in 2007. Further, the chain's association with lesser-known acts like Katy Perry and Stereo Skyline has been mutually beneficial, extending the popularity of the musicians (especially Perry) while amping up the street cred of the Grand Slam-slinging eatery.

Beyond this, the company's promotional method has also undergone a major shift. Its unicorn-and-leprechaun-accented TV ads suggest that Denny's is trying to attract people on LSD, while its Twitter and MySpace promotions use methods that are familiar to most rock fans. It remains to be seen if the program will significantly alter the company's popularity, but there is little doubt that it is already upping its coolness factor.

As the program continues, it will be interesting to see what the next step is. I'm banking on the Marilyn Manson Absinthe parfait, although I wouldn't turn down a plate of Fergie's black-eyed peas.
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