Restaurant chain Denny’s has taken the opportunity to feature student athletes in an effort to continue to make an impact with younger diners while keeping momentum in their robust sports marketing play.

As all eyes will soon turn to hoops in next month’s March Madness, Denny’s is partnering with Stanford junior forward Fran Belibi as part of its continued effort to showcase underrepresented athletes, as well as to celebrate the return of Denny’s Super Slam breakfast deal.

Denny’s began a Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) program featuring student athletes last fall, when it included football’s “often-forgotten” offensive linemen in the brand’s cross-collegiate All-Pancaker Team promotion.

‘Super Slam’ dunk to engage fans with NIL partnership 

Due to a change in NCAA guidelines and a number of state laws enacted in 2021, college student-athletes gained the right to receive payment from brands for the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL).

“Supporting student-athletes in the wake of NIL is not our first sports marketing rodeo, but we’re excited about this space,” said Denny’s Chief Brand Officer John Dillon. “For us, NIL deals are about more than just paying student-athletes. It’s about lifting up underrepresented student-athletes and giving them the platform they deserve.”

The NIL program gave the brand the opportunity to team up with Belibi, who is an NCAA Women’s basketball champ and also has the distinction of being one of only eight women ever to slam dunk in a college game – which makes a great tie-in with Denny’s Super Slam meal.

In addition to the NIL agreement with Belibi, Denny’s is also donating $25,000 to the Women’s Sports Foundation, an organization co-founded by tennis icon Billie Jean King.

Multi-channel strategy extends brand reach and exposure for athletes

“Fran is a model student-athlete who shares our values and has done a lot to generate excitement for women’s college basketball,” said Dillon.

Belibi dunked twice in games last season, and won the 2019 High School Slam Dunk competition. Some of her highlights have tens of thousands of views on YouTube. However, she will gain even more exposure through the Denny’s promotion.

Denny’s social leverage featuring Stanford hoops star Fran Belibi. Image: Denny’s.

The Super Slam campaign is running nationally on broadcast TV and radio, on Denny’s digital and social channels, as well as the athlete’s social media.

On the social side, Denny’s aims at connecting with younger Gen Z consumers, while maintaining their presence with Gen X and Boomers. Millennials are at the center of Denny’s strategy, according to Dillon.

Read more: 2022 Predictions: Customer Experience & Digital Experience

“Our social channels are designed to reflect the eclectic and offbeat conversations that people have with their friends and families in diners,” Dillon explained. “We’ve found our brand’s voice and role in feeding people’s souls to be very important, and when we say we love to feed people, we mean all people, regardless of their background.” 

Diversity, equity and inclusion in Denny’s marketing efforts

“In order to be America’s Diner of today, we need to speak to the diverse groups of people that make up this country in a way that feels both emotionally and culturally resonant,” said Dillon. “As such, we ensure our internal marketing team and agency partners understand the importance of speaking directly to diverse segments by making diversity, equity and inclusion a business priority at every level of the organization.”

He added, “At Denny’s, diversity, equity and inclusion are ingrained in every part of our business including our marketing team and partners, who have done a tremendous job telling our story to multicultural audiences.”

As part of their approach, Denny’s selects important causes to support through their brand voice, as well as with sponsorships. Denny’s served as a sponsor of the Orange Blossom Classic, a bowl game between Historically Black Colleges and Universities that was brought back in 2021.

Innovating customer experience

Denny’s has also boosted their CX in recent months. They launched a new logged-in experience for Denny’s Rewards members that allows users to save and edit account details and preferences.

Another new feature is a digital offer wallet, where customers can access rewards and coupons, all in one place. Experience and growth company Hathway helped launch the features, as well as loyalty and engagement platform punchh.

“The pandemic accelerated the shift to digital, and we just rolled out an all-new digital experience in September that included the relaunch of, Denny’s on Demand and Denny’s mobile app,” said Dillon. “This new seamless digital experience gives our guests more convenient ways to enjoy America’s Diner, and it’s just the first major step in our mission to redefine how the Modern American Family dines together.”

He added, “In 2022 we’re focused on building one-on-one relationships with our consumers to deliver a seamless and personalized guest experience, whether you are seated in one of our booths, stopping by for pick-up or ordering delivery.”

About The Author

Chris Wood draws on over 15 years of reporting experience as a B2B editor and journalist. At DMN, he served as associate editor, offering original analysis on the evolving marketing tech landscape. He has interviewed leaders in tech and policy, from Canva CEO Melanie Perkins, to former Cisco CEO John Chambers, and Vivek Kundra, appointed by Barack Obama as the country’s first federal CIO. He is especially interested in how new technologies, including voice and blockchain, are disrupting the marketing world as we know it. In 2019, he moderated a panel on “innovation theater” at Fintech Inn, in Vilnius. In addition to his marketing-focused reporting in industry trades like Robotics Trends, Modern Brewery Age and AdNation News, Wood has also written for KIRKUS, and contributes fiction, criticism and poetry to several leading book blogs. He studied English at Fairfield University, and was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He lives in New York.

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