A Lift for Hooters? Quirky New Ad Campaign Puts Owl Out Front

Hooters - Feed the dream
Hooters - Feed the dream

Few restaurants are as image-dependent as Hooters, the chicken wing- and women's breast-based restaurant chain whose logo features a wide-eyed owl. With the aid of a waitstaff of comely young women wearing hot pants and low-cut tops, Hooters has parlayed a sports bar-style menu into a concept with hundreds of locations and annual sales that at one point approached $1 billion.

But since 2008, when Hooters grossed around $960 million, revenue has been sliding: Last year it was down to $858 million, according to Technomic, an industry analyst. The recession played a part, but according to Advertising Age, Technomic blames another factor as well -- "increased competition from so-called 'breastaurants' such as Twin Peaks and Tilted Kilt," newer operations that make Hooters -- which is nearly 30 years old -- look outdated.

Hooters' solution is a new marketing campaign, in conjunction with "a three- to five-year plan to revitalize the brand," Ad Age reports -- "and part of that plan is to appeal to a broader, younger audience that includes women."

"Historically the lion's share [of the brand's] position was all about the girls," said Hooters chief marketing officer Dave Henninger, referring to the restaurant's alluring servers. "It's worked relatively well, but we see ourselves in a bigger place than that."

Technomic executive vice president Darren Tristano agrees: "The timing is really good for them to take the next step and contemporize their concept and try to appeal to the younger consumer who is less engaged with Hooters."

So how will the original breastaurant remake itself to attract a different kind of customer?

While Hooters is working hard on marketing -- hiring writer-director Jody Hill of HBO's "Eastbound and Down" to craft new TV spots -- Henninger said his company "confronted the fact that if we truly want to expand," image isn't enough; fundamentals had to be addressed. This week, Hooters debuted a new menu that includes close to 30 salads, burgers, and more varieties of its staple, chicken wings. It will also remodel up to 25 locations each year, giving them a more contemporary ambiance.

As for the ads, they feature a pair of owl finger puppets -- one angelic, the other demonic -- engaged in dialogue that purportedly dramatizes the psychomachia of a consumer inwardly debating whether to dine at Hooters. Via Ad Age: "'It really is the conversation you always have,' [Hooters chief creative officer Noel] Cottrell said, adding that often people don't know how to broach the subject of going to Hooters with friends, coworkers or even spouses." It seems a strange admission for an executive to make, but Cottrell senses opportunity: "We wanted to bring this out to the forefront and just talk about how fun this is."

See for yourself how the product turned out -- and be warned that the first spot contains a significant amount of sophomoric humor at the expense of senior citizens (a natural way of trying to appeal to the young):

If you're unimpressed, reserve judgement: ESPN football analyst Jon Gruden will be appearing in ads set to air this fall. Because if finger puppets and a panoply of salads don't suffice to lure women and millennials through the doors of Hooters, an aging expert in athletic violence is probably the answer.