TGI Friday’s takes giant step with new ‘Little Guy’ ads

TGI Friday’s takes giant step with new ‘Little Guy’ ads – television advertisement

Ron Ruggless

DALLAS — TGI Friday’s has employed a small man for the big job of being its newest small-screen spokesman.

He’s 5 inches tall, weighs in at a whopping 8 ounces and has to maneuver an assortment of table-top traps, such as forks, water glasses and the introduction of big plates of Friday’s new menu items.

The Little Guy campaign, Friday’s first with its new agency, Publicis/Bloom Advertising here, got off the ground in a big way in early April and runs through the early part of this month.

With a little special-effects magic from Star Wars genius George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic and story boards from Publicis/Bloom, the Little Guy helped Friday’s focus on food and have an eye-catching spokesman at the same time.

“I saw it as a solution to a problem that we’ve had over the years. That is, that we would like to show a lot of closeup food and generate a lot of appetite appeal while at the same time trying to use a spokesperson or someone to gain memorability or identification,” says Steve Hickey, Friday’s vice president for marketing.

“In the television advertising you find yourself cutting back and forth from the food to the spokesperson and you lose continuity,” Hickey adds. “This spokesperson, being that he’s 5 inches tall and is right there on the table with the food, allows you to leave the big closeup food photography on the screen at the same time the spokesperson is on the screen.”

The two spots — one 30 seconds, the other 15 — employ the same sort of technology found in “Jurassic Park” or “Terminator 2” though the idea is more along the lines of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”

Beth Mack, who is the senior principal and director of marketing for Publicis/Bloom Advertising, says, “It’s so unreal in terms of the small person being on the table with the food, and the delivery is fun and lighthearted. He has some somewhat whimsical phrases, like at the end when he says, `Is it me, or are these portions huge?'”

The national commercial, aimed at Friday’s target market of educated, somewhat upscale adults between ages 21 and 49, will appear in more segments of the campaign, Hickey and Mack say.

“We’ve already shot future commercials, and they will be running later this summer and later on this year,” Hickey says. “We’re hoping The Little Guy will be around for several years.”

The first two spots feature Jim Meskiman, an actor who has appeared in such movies as “The Paper” and the upcoming Ron Howard film, “Apollo 13.” He’s also the son of actress Marion Ross from television’s “Happy Days.”

Hickey says the campaign was part of Publicis/ Bloom’s pitch last fall, when Friday’s was shopping for a new agency to represent its more than 320 restaurants. Friday’s severed its relationship with the Richards Group, also of Dallas, when it took on the Taco Bell account last summer.

Production costs for the television ads were comparable to those of previous national campaigns, Hickey said, but he declined to release a dollar amount. ‘Obviously, we’re going to spend in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in production,” he says. “Where we pick up additional cost in special effects, we are saving some costs in other areas. Sometimes in the past we have used expensive celebrity talent. Now we’re using a relatively unknown actor here.” The most recent Friday’s spokesman was Harry Anderson of “Night Court” and “Dave’s World.”

“For this campaign to work, it had to look realistic,” Hickey says, explaining why the company went with Industrial Light and Magic in San Rafael, Calif., which also did special effects for “Forrest Gump.” “It had to really look like it was a 5-inch-tall guy. The decision was easy: We went to the best place to get special effects. They certainly aren’t the cheapest, but the results were well worth it.”

Hickey says he also felt the commercials had to be fun and humorous. “We see `fun’ as a key point of differentiation for Friday’s vs. some of our competitors,” he says.

Mack says, “We wanted to introduce the three new products that Friday’s has in their restaurants. And we wanted to do that with Friday’s fun atmosphere, and I think we accomplished both.

“First and foremost, it shows the new products and describes them,” she says.

“One of the dilemmas for any food marketer, particularly one that is trying to introduce new products, is how you show appetizing food and, at the same time, have a commercial concept that tracks through and is entertaining and communicative. What the Little Guy does is allow us to keep the food and the product on the screen at the same time. We can get both the fun atmosphere and the food without having to cut away to the commercial vehicle.”

Mack says she sees a big future for the Little Guy. “We see a great deal of opportunity for the Little Guy,” she says. “Obviously, he’s going to stay on the tabletop for quite some time.”

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