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September 11, 2012

As sales drop, Hooters tries to catch women's eyes, too

(Continued)

ATLANTA —

On a recent weekday, a Hooters in Chicago's Near North neighborhood was advertising "Buncha Lunches" for $5.99. A sign above the entrance said, "U Have The Draft, We Have The Fantasy."

Jeaneth Mazzocco, 38, had just finished a batch of classic wings with co-worker James Pierson, 47. Mazzocco dines at Hooters about once a month and said colleagues from University of Illinois at Chicago "find it funny that we go."

"It might have been seen as scandalous 40 years ago," Pierson said. "We're going there for the food" and the beautiful girls are just a "gimmick" to draw diners.

It's that internal dialog that Hooters wants to hit head on with new television ads, said Noel Cottrell, chief creative officer at Fitzgerald & Co. Ads by the agency feature devil owl and angel owl finger puppets giving advice to guys.

"With Hooters, for guys in particular, there's a thing that goes through their head, which is like, 'Well, should I go or shouldn't I go?' " Cottrell said. "We just wanted to make light of that discussion."

Hooters will renovate 70 percent of its U.S. stores, adding amenities such as street-level patios and replacing some of the dark wood with more contemporary furnishings to evolve the beach shack vibe. One of the most important design elements will be larger windows so people outside can see in.

"There is nothing to hide," Chief Marketing Officer Dave Henninger said. "For those folks who are convinced there's something to hide inside a Hooters, this new design should disabuse them of that notion."

New flatscreen TVs have replaced old box televisions, and Marks sprung for costly sports programming packages so they could make a nationwide promise to show every game. National Football League games and Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial arts bouts are huge draws for couples, Henninger said. New TV ads feature former NFL Super Bowl coach Jon Gruden, once a Hooters cook, pitching the chain as the place to watch football.

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