Cliche or Comfort? Denny's Diner Ad Campaign Pours on the Syrup
And then there's the long-time association with a diner as, well, greasy and unappealing. This may be far less of a concern in 2011; for the past few decades, upscale diners have taken their place in hip urban restaurant scenes, populated by yuppie parents and their children in the mornings and hipsters straight from barhopping in the wee hours. I visited The Diner in Washington D.C. in its first year and it was full of beautiful people; according to Yelp, it's still hopping and trendy a decade later. Search for "hip diner in Manhattan" and Google will auto-fill your query. (Surely you know that, New York Times?)
Skepticism of diners as a warm fuzzy image could be disproved by any excursion through movie settings for the past, oh, 40 years. Some of the most heartwarming (and, of course, most chilling) images that spring to mind are set in diners. As Good As It Gets. Pulp Fiction. When Harry Met Sally. Just about any movie in which a character is running away, or traveling, or staying up too late for any reason, has a scene in a diner. We get diners; we love diners. Is there any surprise that Denny's shouldn't try to connect with our love and understanding?
Of course not. Whether it will succeed is anyone's guess; after all, Denny's is a bit too brand-name to truly succeed as an iconic but blank slate sort of backdrop for human connection, with pancake syrup and endless cups of coffee. I don't much love the commercials, finding them too peppy and manic; but, I'm not the target customer. I stopped going to diners when I stopped going to trendy bars until the wee hours.
In essence, this ad campaign is a re-branding, from a chain famous for greasy breakfasts and senior citizen discounts to a place with the caring, personal service and unique personality you might get at Cheers, or any other place that exists only in our collective cultural imagination. It's pretty certain your average freeway-exit Denny's won't deliver that atmosphere. But if we keep believing it's possible, Denny's may get the happy ending of its silver screen dreams.