Chili’s tokes up on the ’70’s with new ad campaign, “Chillin’ since ’75.”
July 6, 2016
No shoes, No shirt, No problem…
Somewhat unexpectedly, Chili’s bar and grill is going for the big branding idea with its new retro ad campaign from agency, Hill Holiday. I say “unexpectedly” because when it comes to advertising, chains like Chili’s, Fridays and the like usually default to food porn and price points vs. any sort of branding. For this reason alone, the effort here deserves props. I know from experience how hard it is to get marketers of “casual dining” to do anything exceptional.
But is Chillin’ Since ‘75 the right answer?
Let’s start with the obvious. I do “dig” the wordplay on the name and how that naturally “jives” with the “groovy vibe” of 1975. Moreover, one can easily accept the campaign’s mythology because of legitimate connections to the period. If you’re old enough to remember, or are a student of Americana, you know that as far as foodie culture went, in the 70’s, salad bars and hamburger joints were where it was at. During this time Lettuce Entertain You opened the first such joint in Chicago, RJ Grunts. In LA, Barney’s Beanery was gut filling rock stars and stoners with specialty burgers and chili. Jim Morrison got fat there. And who can forget Hamburger Hamlet? (Probably a lot of you but I’m trying to make a point.)
Chillin’ since ‘75 does make sense for the brand. The 70’s have aged well in our collected conscience and have about as good a chance of resonating with twenty-somethings as anything else. Perhaps even better. Beyond the fashion, there are definite similarities between the 70’s “Me-Generation” and the narcissistic current one. Do I even have to point them out?
Chili’s succeeds in creating a Boogie Nights atmosphere first and foremost by copping to the awesome tunage of the day. Hearing the opening chords to Foghat’s Slow Ride bring it all back, man. As does the washed out film and the gnarly casting. Granted, it’s not a difficult era to replicate but getting it wrong would have been a total fail. On that note I’m glad Chili’s paid for the real music and not some half-assed facsimile.
Not to be a buzz kill but the commercials may actually go too far. “Heck, sometimes we didn’t even wear shirts!” Ew. Sweaty hippies making dinner is kind of a turn off. Still, you gotta give them credit for going all in. Another quibble: By 1975, the hippie culture had virtually expired, having been crushed by Altamont, Charles Manson and other factors. Punk rock, disco and cocaine were right around the corner. Chillin’ by any standard was over.
Full disclosure: I haven’t been to a Chili’s in many years. What I do recall of the place resembles little the hedonistic hamburger joint of these commercials. The last one I was in felt more like a box in a strip mall. Because it was. Can the chain get that loving feeling back? Possibly. In college a good friend of mine cooked burgers at Chili’s. He loved his weed and got a buzz on before every shift. He gave us freebies all the time. So, there’s that.