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New Hooters ads try to lure women ... as customers

"Eastbound and Down" director Jody Hill directed Hooters new ad campaign. This is the spot "Fantasy Football."

Hooters hopes that you won't just go there for the wings.

The restaurant chain is launching a new marketing campaign -- which it calls its first fully integrated campaign -- this week to promote itself as more than a place where patrons can get chicken wings and gawk at girls in daisy dukes. The move comes as Hooters is executing a three- to five-year plan to revitalize the brand, 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 CMO Dave Henninger, adding that it has traditionally targeted men. "It's worked relatively well, but we see ourselves in a bigger place than that." Make no mistake, though, the girls and their orange shorts aren't going anywhere, he said. The chain's tagline is now "Feed the dream."

The chain "confronted the fact that if we truly want to expand" and appeal to younger people and women, as well as be an option for more dining occasions, it had to improve its food and service, said Mr. Henninger. Hooters this week unveiled new menu items that include nearly 30 salads, burgers, and yes, more varieties of chicken wings. The chain is also remodeling up to 25 locations each year with a more contemporary look.

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Hooters has been around for nearly 30 years, but the chain has seen increased competition from so-called "breastaurants" such as Twin Peaks and Tilted Kilt. Although Hooters is much larger in terms of sales and locations -- its U.S. sales last year were about $858 million, according to Technomic -- they are newer concepts that put Hooters in an outdated light, said Darren Tristano, exec VP at theconsultantcy. "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."

Mr. Henninger said that other breastaurant chains aren't the focus for Hooters in terms of competition. "We are the major player and we have a unique brand of hospitality. We're the iconic brand" he said, adding that Hooters is more focused on competing with chains such as Buffalo Wild Wings and Chili's.

Until 2011, the 400-plus unit was owned by the estate of founder Robert H. Brooks, who died in 2006. Last year it was sold to a consortium of private-equity firms that brought in a new management team to revitalize the brand. Among them are CEO Terry Marks, who joined the company in late 2011; Chief Operating Officer Sam Rothschild, Executive Chef Gregg Brickman and Mr. Henninger, who joined in March.

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The marketing campaign was created by Fitzgerald & Co., which is the first lead agency at the chain, which has mostly worked in-house. It encompasses TV spots, social-media efforts, billboards and radio. The TV portion of the campaign will initially include buys on ESPN channels, as well as Fox channels such as Fox Sports. Mr. Henninger said that the first phase of the TV campaign will be directed at networks that have a heavily male audience, and also a growing female audience. Next year the chain will branch out in its TV buys, and ESPN football analyst Jon Gruden will appear in ads this fall. 

"Eastbound & Down" director and writer Jody Hill directed the TV spots, which feature two owls. One is cast as an angel and another is a devil, meant to represent the internal dialogue that Fitzgerald & Co. Chief Creative Officer Noel Cottrell said goes on in a consumer's mind when debating whether to dine at Hooters. "It really is the conversation you always have (about Hooters)," Mr. Cottrell said, adding that often people don't know how to broach the subject of going to Hooters with friends, coworkers or even spouses. "We wanted to bring this out to the forefront and just talk about how fun this is." Mr. Cottrell added that Hooters wanted to illustrate that dining there was about more than just the Hooters Girls.

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Enlisting Jody Hill for TV creative is a bold move. "Eastbound & Down" is an irreverent HBO show that stars the fictional Kenny Powers, a washed-up baseball star who dons a mullet, frequently abuses drugs, disrespects women and neglects his child. Mr. Henninger described the ads as having "no pretense," and while some elements of the campaign will likely be appreciated by "Eastbound & Down" fans, that may not register with other viewers. In one of the TV spots, a lifeguard performs a hand gesture that Kenny Powers is known for -- a sort of inside joke for Eastbound & Down fans. "People might not get parts of it, but that's part of the polarization of what Jody does. Some people think it's funny, some don't." 

This is not Mr. Hill's first brush with advertising. He directed videos starring Kenny Powers, played by Danny McBride, for a K-Swiss campaign created by 72andSunny.

Hooters isn't a big measured-media spender. The chain in 2011 spent about $6.6 million, according to Kantar Media. Though Mr. Henninger declined to provide specifics on numbers, the company said that this media buy represents a 25 percent spending increase over other efforts to date. 

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