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Radio campaign using Dutch snatches North American top award

De Dutch-chain thrives on 'pannekoek'

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

SURREY, B.C. - A small, regional B.C.-based restaurant franchise chain that heavily accentuates its Dutch connection and produces 'the most beautiful pannekoek in the world', recently snatched a top North American award for the best low-budget radio advertising campaign away from contenders with much bigger budgets and higher profiles. Company president Bill Waring of De Dutch Pannekoek House Restaurants Inc. traveled with Joe Vanderkooy to Atlanta, Georgia to pick up the annual Excellence in Advertising for Radio Award.

The award-winning commercials employ a catchy theme song and male voices. One voice attempts to teach the other the Dutch word 'pannekoek' but has a hard pronouncing it. The dialogue is humorous and easily recalled. In addition to the Award, the radio campaign brought a steady increase in customers for the ten-year old restaurant chain.

UBC survey

Partners John Dys and Bill Waring involved Vancouver-based UBC Faculty of Commerce in writing their marketing strategy plan. Franchisees then conducted surveys of their customers and evaluated why previous advertising was not meeting their expectations. One of the surveys' surprises was the customer's average age, 60% of them were below 40. Also, it was found that the previous commercials had not been distinctive enough. Taking cues from the survey, Waring had a package of four commercials produced by professionals and run on a station that catered to a younger audience. The results of the 10-week ad campaign were immediate: from 16 percent in one location to 54 percent at another, when comparing sales to that of a year earlier.

Even though the chain's Dutch identity is strong, no one sees the restaurants as 'ethnic'. An interior decorator combined a modern Delft blue format with a cosy atmosphere in all the locations that were added over the past few years and the logo, signs and in-store advertising changed. Some walls were decorated with murals depicting typical Dutch scenes, or feature wooden shoes or other symbols of Dutch culture and history.

The chain's pannekoek was attracting media attention well before the award-winning radio campaign was aired. The 12-inch diameter pannekoek - if cut up in square inches it amounts to 113 bites, says Waring - has been splashed on local magazine covers and earned enthusiastic praise from various food editors. For months, franchise founder John Dys had tried out, adjusted and perfected his Dutch pannekoek recipes on relatives and friends with the goal to adapt the pannekoek to Canadian palates. Customers can make their selection from dozens of pannekoek combinations and variations, such as the ones with beacon and thick Dutch syrup. If the pannekoek is too much of a meal, the menu still provides plenty of other choices, including the traditional Dutch breakfast, the 'uitsmijter.'

The best

The chain's success story is not complete without reference to the Royal Bank's 1994 Franchise of the Year Award. De Dutch Pannekoek House with its crisp, identity-loaded menu and in-house advertising was specifically cited for its attention to detail, leaving McDonald's and a long list of other powerful industry names bite the dust. While Waring is happy with those awards, the ones really making his day are those generated by customers who turn into proud boosters as happened in 1993 when a daily newspaper asked readers which restaurant made the best pancake. The results were announced with the headline: Pannekoek House top pick for pancakes!

Waring who has no Dutch ancestry, was introduced to the restaurant business by John Dys, a Dutch-Canadian entrepreneur who in the past attracted national media attention with his hamburger opinion polls at Vancouver's Pacific National Exhibition. At the PNE, Dys sold deluxe hamburgers named after party leaders and very accurately predicted the outcome of every Fall election during the 1960s and 1970s. From being a Frying Dutchman Restaurant franchise holder, founded earlier by Dys, Waring became a partner in the new chain in 1985. Since then, they were joined by minority shareholder and franchisee Joe Vanderkooy.