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This is ‘not how to Sonic’: America’s drive-in should retire ‘Sonic Guys’

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Sonic Drive-In commercial spots featuring "the Sonic guys"

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Do you hate those Sonic Drive-In commercials? Many, many, many people do. Someone, somewhere, somehow has to reach out to the highest ranked marketing executives in the Sonic Drive-In corporate headquarters in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and ask them to please have mercy on the viewers who cannot take those incessant, unrelenting commercial spots featuring actors T.J. Jagodowski and Peter Grosz. It must stop. Please, make it stop!

Television addicts are the people most hurt by Sonic advertising as their publicity honchos seem to key in on major network programs and then blast you with the “message” four to five times a show with little 30-second and 60-second gifts that have all of the appeal of, well, wallpaper. In fact, just ask your friends and neighbors whether they like the commercials with “the two guys,” and start a tote board. They are banal, boring, and childish, but if “improvised” means “will drive you stark, raving mad right out of your mind,” well, yeah, that’s improvisation, Sonic-style.

Improvisation means you’re not paying a script writer. You don’t have a “call to action,” and there’s no focus group to determine just how badly you are hurting your brand by aligning it with the word “stupid” as in “stupid Sonic commercials.”

We’d almost been lucky enough to see the end of “those two guys” in 2010. Audiences had a real reprieve. But no, no, no, no, the Sonic honchos kept changing advertising agencies as often as Jack-in-the-Box does, searching for some competitive edge to capture your attention on TV and then, more importantly, buy their products. Do they not simply understand that “stupid doesn’t sell burgers, shakes and fries”? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Andrew Newman wrote about the Jagodowski-Grosz duo, in The New York Times in 2012, as the out-of-work actors who’d “starred in humorous and largely improvised ads for Sonic Drive from 2002 to 2010” had managed a comeback campaign via their YouTube videos to reappear. Actually that was a put-on, too, as it was more advertising hoopla to engender publicity for the actors, and most importantly as the Sonic brand.

Slogans for the drive-in over the years have included:

Service with the Speed of Sound (1958)
Happy Eating! (1980)
America’s Drive-In (1987)
Summer’s Funner (1993)
It’s Sonic Good (2003)
Sonic’s Got It, Others Don’t (2007)
Even Sweeter After Dark (2009)
This is How You Sonic (2011)

Advertising is a medium of change; change is important; change is good. But does anyone remember feeling good about Sonic based on their commercials? Chances are good: no. Don’t you miss the “Beach Blanket Bingo”-flavored spots with Frankie Avalon as far back as 1988? Please? Someone say “yes.”

Back in 1993, Adweek reported that Sonic had chosen “five finalists for their $12-million-plus corporate and franchise account.” Back then, they had “1200 stores, 138 of them company-owned, in 25 states in the Southwest and Southeast.” At the time, the marketing gurus were deciding whether or not to keep Frankie Avalon as they changed their new direction as they “were most interested in $50-million-plus agencies” to work on their brand.

Per their corporate web site, in 2014, there are now 3,500 Sonic restaurants (notice they don’t call themselves a drive-in anymore) in 44 states. If you live in one of the six states that Sonic doesn’t have a presence, be glad you don’t. But, beware; they’re likely headed your way. Basically, in two decades they’ve about tripled their business. Reviewing the math then, having those two idiotic goobers on their commercials for nine years and then bringing them back doesn’t seem, on paper, to be such a bad idea.

But then, chances are good that viewers just want a cheap milkshake and a burger and they don’t base their decisions of where to eat based on their spokespeople or not. In fact, maybe they don’t need commercials at all to get you to eat at their “restaurant” as you see them everywhere. Some would disagree.

From 2008–2011, there was a blog, “My Life and My Sonic,” devoted to “discussing the 168,894 possible drink combinations or the actual 688,133” combinations available. Statistics aside, the author, Kaley Kelsey, must have gotten sick and tired of trying the combinations, or blogging about it, or maybe she just didn’t like “the two guys from Sonic” either and gave up.

Hmm. Giving up. Sonic should give up on their tired, stale, redundant pitch. Take a walk on the wild side; hire a new agency, give Frankie Avalon another job. He made you guys famous with his endorsements for so long. What have you done for Frankie lately?

On the other hand, as long as those untalented, unimaginative “actors” sit there in a car and improvise what they consider humor (“my lady parade,” “chocolate cherry grape Coke to get your tastebuds going, dinagalingalingaling”), this is not how at least one viewer will Sonic. In fact, you don’t need “happy hour” from 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. weekdays only for a bargain. McDonald’s has their large soft drinks for $1.00 all day, every day. Sonic, it’s time to change your marketing or else it’s time to change the channel. Frankie Avalon, where are you when we need you? Summer’s coming and it’s time for some spring cleaning!

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