How Denny’s Won Over Students by Getting Weird

(Featured Image: Screenshot from the Denny’s Tumblr)

Denny’s Diner is a social media powerhouse that trends high with the elusive, yet lucrative college demographic. How did a breakfast-loving brand that normally appeals to senior citizens and young families become a hit with college students?

By turning its online persona into a bizarre, yet approachable Millennial that you could have a pancake with.

The absurd Denny’s brand voice is relatable to students

College students have a specific sense of humor that pairs universal experiences with the absurd. Many viral social media posts straddle the line between the weird and the familiar, creating a sense of community among all the users that relate to the joke.

Posts on the Denny’s blog and Twitter often center on the familiar quirks of growing up. Students that recognize their own experiences in a funny Denny’s post instantly forge a connection with the brand and with the other students who shared it.

Here’s one example from the Denny’s blog:

This blog post isn’t really about sandwiches; it’s about coming of age. For college students transitioning from adolescence to adulthood, a humorous post about learning to love and desire sandwich crusts overtime can strike a deep chord. 

Its out-of-this-world content is posted where college students will see it

One ingredient to Denny’s social media success isn’t what it posts, but where it posts. For example, the Denny’s blog often takes normal images and videos and adds a surreal breakfast twist.

Cute as it is, there’s a reason this picture appears on the Denny’s blog and not its Facebook.

The Denny’s blog is hosted on Tumblr, a micro-blogging platform popular with college-aged millennials. An animated loop of a man eating an endless strip of bacon or a picture of a college student sitting on a dinner plate won’t be out of place on this platform.

Meanwhile, Facebook boasts an older audience that might feel alienated by a post users don’t understand or relate to. Denny’s sticks to more traditional posts on this channel, such as photos of mouthwatering pancakes and new restaurant promotions.

Even the most branded Denny’s content feels like an organic meme

College students view promoted or branded content with contempt, yet Denny’s has no problem getting their engagement.

That’s because Denny’s has a knack for seizing fleeting pop culture moments and transforming them into memorable posts that tie back to its brand. For instance, take the rampant Dat Boi meme from the summer of 2016. Denny’s riffed on the meme with a restaurant pun. As of this post, the tweet has been shared 23,000 and favorited 31,000 times.

College students already create and spread memes with their friends, so sharing a well-crafted Denny’s meme feels less like promoting a brand and more like sharing fun content. Chasing after memes can backfire, but if you hit the right chord and act fast, they trigger instant engagement with your brand’s college student followers.

College students are invited to get weird with Denny’s

Engagement is more than likes, favorites, and hearts. It also includes the brand publicly responding to its customers and interacting with other brands.

Denny’s uses this engagement as an opportunity to directly include its followers in its eccentric social media strategy.

In the above post, a user submitted a random question to the Denny’s Blog using the Tumblr Ask feature. Not missing a beat, the blog admins responded with a pun that college students couldn’t resist.

Scroll through the Denny’s blog, and you’ll find many examples of student users submitting strange questions to the brand and receiving even funnier answers. These public interactions then get amplified by that user’s network as they share what happened with friends and family. 

Denny’s fans aren’t just in on this joke—they are a part of it.

Not every brand can get weird like Denny’s, but they can take a cue from the restaurant’s ability to consistently engage college students. Create posts directly relatable to your audience, tailor them to your channel, and encourage user interaction.

Students aren’t an enigma brands need to solve. Fill out this form and download our Cracking the Code on Student Shoppers infographic to learn more about their shopping habits.