Was the Denny’s mascot really a debacle?


The Denny’s sausage mascot reaction on social media this week is the first thing in a long time that actually made me laugh out loud. If you haven’t been following it, the debate centers around components of a new campaign about the chain’s Breakfast Grand Slam that features an anthropomorphized sausage wearing a fedora, which some internet users felt resembled something else entirely:

Mashable may very well have started the meme and fueled the conversation when it picked up the first tweet comparing the mascot to poop, and rounded up the responses on social media. Then the Today Show and USA Today picked it up along with a number of other news outlets, and everyone else piled on questioning why Denny’s would select such a strange mascot.

But AgencySpy clarified the matter soon after, pointing out that Denny’s sausage character was actually created several years ago by Denny’s agency of record EP & Co. and Robot Chicken production company Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, as part of a whole group of anthropomorphic breakfast characters. In fact, looking back at the TheGrandSlams.com, the characters and storylines have always been odd and off-color in a way that presaged last year’s crass and darkly humorous Sausage Party movie.

Most brands couldn’t imagine a marketing team greenlighting a character that looks like that, knowing that it could very well be ridiculed. In fact, I bet a lot of marketers have been faced with similar decisions and have chosen the safer route. I, for one, still regret not running an ad with a unicorn shooting lasers out of its eyes six years ago; the agency was brilliant and funny but we didn’t have the courage to publish it, and went instead with a more boring version that we felt would be less “questionable.” We could have pushed the boundaries of the organization and we chose not to, which we felt at the time was the right move.

If Denny’s was considering a campaign that they knew was likely to be compared unfavorably to bathroom behavior, it was a calculated risk to run the creative knowing that the outcomes could be hilarious and endearing or damaging to the brand. It’s hard to predict that sort of thing, especially on social media. In this case, I imagine it was all planned – or at least entered into with the understanding that fans might take the character out of context.  The brand has a pretty irreverent sense of humor, especially on Twitter, where they’ve leaned into even the “zoom in” meme earlier this year in a darkly humorous way. And then there was this canny response to the news coverage, given by Denny’s CMO:

"We do not have any plans to change how Sausage looks because…well, he looks exactly how a breakfast sausage should look," Denny's chief marketing officer John Dillon said in an email. "And of course, we’d hate to give Sausage a complex because we -- and his Grand Slams family -- love him just the way he is!" –USA Today

Ever on point, Denny’s tweeted as well, showing how we’d all hurt Sausage’s feelings:


As the laughter dies down, the real question is this: will any of this actually move the needle on brand sentiment, intent to visit a Denny’s location, or frequency of visits? It’s hard to say. I’m a focus group of one, but I never typically eat at Denny’s, never think of them, and never talk about them—and now I am. So in that sense, any publicity truly is good publicity.