Restaurant marketers reported a number of exceptional TV campaigns in the second quarter, with many brands breaking through the clutter by accentuating strengths they have cultivated for years in their advertising, according to a new study from Ace Metrix.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based advertising research firm found that Baskin-Robbins and Olive Garden led their respective categories of quick-service and casual-dining marketers with multiple commercials earning top “Ace Scores.” The proprietary Ace Score is Ace Metrix’s measure of how persuasive and watchable an advertisement is, based on daily surveys with thousands of consumers.

Casual-dining restaurants fared particularly well in the second quarter, achieving an Ace Score norm of 631 out of a possible 950, compared with the norm of 566 for all advertisers across all industries. Quick-service restaurants had a second-quarter norm of 594, also beating the nationwide mark for all marketers.

Casual dining: Darden finds winning formula

Orlando, Fla.-based Darden Restaurants Inc. took the top three Ace Scores in the casual-dining category during the second quarter, including the No. 1 and No. 3 result, with 30-second ads for Olive Garden and the second-highest Ace Score for a LongHorn Steakhouse 30-second commercial.

Olive Garden’s spot for the “2 for $25 Guest Favorites” promotion garnered a 734 Ace Score, followed by LongHorn’s ad for its “Grilled Tastes of Summer” menu, which earned a 714 score. Olive Garden’s other commercial, for its “Buy One Take One” deal that starts at $12.99, received an Ace Score of 700.

All three commercials stuck to the “25-5” format Darden had executed for the past year or longer at Olive Garden, LongHorn and its former chain Red Lobster, noted Jonathan Symonds, executive vice president for Ace Metrix. In the last five seconds of each 30-second spot, Olive Garden and LongHorn promoted their lunch combos at value-driven price points.

The hybrid approach might be the way Darden has determined it can promote lunch while still devoting the majority of its marketing muscle to dinner, “but you can weave in lunch advertising in a number of ways,” Symonds said.

“Honestly, they should think about what they can do with a 15-second spot for lunch and try to drive some frequency around that,” he said. “I think that there probably are opportunities to build on that, but it’s up to Darden how it wants to allocate its media dollars. If lunch were a sales anchor for them, these ads probably wouldn’t be in the top five scores for the quarter.”