Gen-Z, Millennial Opps: Chili's shifts strategy under new DM, launches first work from W+K (Score 80)

Sales Lead: Chili's Grill & Bar has started shifting away from fast food to dine-in and launched a new margarita campaign.

  • George Felix, the brand's CMO of almost a year, recently revealed details about Chili's ongoing strategy shifts.
  • Felix has pushed for Chili's to have a place in pop culture, revived its national TV ad strategy, and bolstered its focus on social media.
    • The brand paused national TV advertising in early 2020, as is reflected in the spend data below, due to the global pandemic.
    • Chili's started rolling out small multi-market ad tests in July 2021 and returned to national TV in March 2023.
    • Now, Felix detailed that Chili's will invest in more national TV ad spend spikes throughout 2023 in high-impact slots such as live sports or premium cable.
    • The brand will supplement these initiatives with streaming and social media, the latter of which has become increasingly important to Chili's strategy.
  • The brand is specifically working to build awareness around its new food options and classic margaritas.
  • Chili's has also started working with new influencers such as Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey.
    • Both women are featured in Chili's new campaign, which was made by Wieden + Kennedy Portland.
    • This was the first work made by this agency for Chili's, which has shifted to a project-based agency partnership approach.
    • We predicted that Chili's would start working with new agency partners following its July 2022 hire of CMO Felix and its January 2023 hire of marketing VP Jesse Johnson.
    • According to CMO Felix, many of these shifts have been directly impacted by Johnson's ad strategy leadership.
    • Chili's has also worked with influencers on special products such as George Clooney-backed Casamigos and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's Teremana.
  • The brand will likely:
    • Pursue additional new influencer relationships
    • Continue working with nostalgia marketing and ramp up TV and social media efforts
    • Keep increasing spend
    • Seek additional new agency partners
  • Target demographic
    • Gen-Z and millennials, per CMO Felix
      • In the past, Chili's has relied on nostalgia marketing to reach millennials and Gen-X.​​​​

Additional spending insights:

  • Broadcast insights (TV ad creative spend, effectiveness, impressions, and performance)
    • YTD spend: Chili's started utilizing national TV commercials again this year for the first time since 2021. So far this year, it has allocated around $13.1m toward this channel.
    • Last year: The brand didn't utilize this channel in 2022 and had allocated around $401k toward it in 2021
    • 2023 ad programming: Chili's 2023 commercials have targeted Gen-X watching shows such as College Basketball, NBA Basketball, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Bachelor, and Station 19.
  • Digital and social insights (digital ad spend, effectiveness, impressions, and performance)
    • YTD spend: The brand has spent approximately $3m on digital ads YTD, up exponentially from the approximately $326.8k spent by this point last year.
    • YTD data: Since the beginning of 2023, Chili's has earned ~377.6m digital impressions via Facebook (48%), Instagram (30%), YouTube (21%), and desktop display (1%) ads.
    • Last year: In 2022, the restaurant chain spent roughly $989.3k on digital ads, 18% less than the roughly $1.2m spent in 2021.
  • Additional channel insights  
    • The brand utilizes Google Ads along with digital, OOH, Facebook, Instagram, and online video (via Youtube IOS and Youtube.com) ads.
    • Chili's holds planning conversations in Q2 and buying conversations in Q1.

Additional agency insights:

  • Opportunity: Reach out soon to offer project-by-project support for upcoming campaign projects.
    • Chili's is working with a project-based agency approach but is clearly working with a relatively new agency partner, Wieden + Kennedy Portland.
    • For example, in the past, Chili's has also worked with project-based agency partners such as Mischief and Jon Marshall and Daughters.
  • Current agency roster:
    • Wieden + Kennedy Portland: Project-based creative agency partner (at least for this new campaign project)
    • Mischief: Project-based creative agency partner (at least for a recent campaign project)
    • Jon Marshall and Daughters: Project-based creative agency partner (at least for a recent campaign project)
    • O'Keefe Reinhard & Paul: Creative, digital, and social agency partner
    • 360i: Media and social agency partner
    • Access Brand Communications: PR agency partner

Insight Sources: Broadcast insights estimated by iSpot; digital spend insights estimated by Pathmatics; additional channel insights estimated by Vivvix.