Denny's CMO John Dillon on brand's Taylor Swift parody tweet

Diner chain's top marketer explains how the Taylor tweet came about and unveils the strategy behind Denny's real-time marketing and social media.

SPARTANBURG, SC: Denny’s CMO John Dillon sees the diner chain’s social strategy as a natural extension of the same discussions that take place every day across America’s diners. So when a pop culture story – especially involving stars such as Taylor Swift and Kanye West – gains steam, the Denny’s social media team jumps on the opportunity to insert the brand into the conversation.

"People from all walks of life gather in a diner and sit around in a corner booth or at the bar talking about all kinds of random topics – some serious, some not, some pop culture, some politics, all the way across the board," said Dillon. "Our social strategy is about extending the conversations that happen in a diner booth into the digital world and digital space."

Denny’s social media team pays close attention to current events and what is happening in pop culture. So it was hard not to notice one of the biggest news stories last weekend, concerning Kim Kardashian releasing recordings of a conversation Taylor Swift had with Kanye West.

Dillon said the team arrived at work on Monday morning and quickly drafted a tweet parodying Swift’s response to Kardashian’s leak. The tweet has since received major pick-up, with nearly 18,000 likes and over 10,000 retweets. It was also posted on Denny’s Tumblr page, garnering nearly 22,000 notes at press time.

Dillon was unable to share any other figures relating to engagement or sentiment data.

"The tweet importantly also tied back to our business," Dillon said. "There has been a lot of talk about all-day breakfast, so this helped get our brand message out there, and was timely for our brand."

Dillon attributes the success of the tweet to having a clever team, a strong brand positioning, and a sense of what Denny’s is in the restaurant industry and digital space.

He explained that Denny’s comms team had no hesitation in publishing the tweet – even at the risk of angering Swift and her ever-supportive squad by making fun of the artist.

"People know Denny’s and the personality we have, so they read the tweet as a parody, and rightfully so," said Dillon. "I don’t think anyone took it too seriously."

The approval process for Denny’s social team is fairly informal. Dillon noted that occasionally a drafted social media post will be hoisted further up the flagpole to him as marketing lead, but the team is careful not to cross any lines.

"We are careful to represent Denny’s as a family dining brand in everything we do," he said. "We have a slightly off-center personality, so we have guardrails that give us some freedom and we take advantage to show our personality. We’re not afraid to be disruptive in a respectful way."

In terms of where the team draws a line, Dillon said Denny’s refrains from getting involved in conversations relating to politics.

Erwin Penland, Denny’s PR AOR, assisted with the Swift parody tweet.

Scott Moody, an account supervisor at Erwin Penland, said: "This isn’t Denny’s pushing products, sales, or promotions. This is just trying to be part of the conversations happening across America."

Other heavy-hitting real-time responses from Denny’s

On April Fools’ Day, Denny’s took to Twitter to apologize for an [immature and silly] tweet, which had people scrambling to see what it was referring too. There was, in reality, no previous tweet. A journalist at, who has push notifications for the brand on Twitter, discovered Denny’s was playing its fan base.

In May, Denny’s capitalized on the "Dat Boi" meme, which includes a picture of a unicycling frog and is usually accompanied by the text, "Here come Dat Boi!" More of an explainer on the meme can be found here.

When Apple purchased Beats in 2014, Denny’s took the opportunity to (sarcastically) brag about a recent purchase the company had made.

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