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Boston Pizza is shifting gears with its advertising. Its new commercials play up the restaurant chain’s connection to sports and feature a mix of images to appeal to women as well as men.

For too long in advertising, dads have not only been ridiculed as childish goofs, they've also been largely ignored. Mom, the story goes, holds the family purse strings. But in recent years, as men have taken a bigger role – and many women have stopped laughing at jokes at dads' expense – brands such as Huggies, Clorox, Cheerios and Toyota have been working to reverse this trend. More advertising is targeting dads as family leaders, engaged parents, and of course, as shoppers. And one Canadian company was ahead of this curve: Boston Pizza International Inc.

Since 2011, the restaurant chain's campaign, "Here to Make You Happy," has focused squarely on men – including dads – with a humorous approach. Its "Finger Cooking" ads promoted the delivery service to men who hate to cook, a departure from the typical pitch from most food-service chains as a saviour for busy moms. When it created the "Pizzaburger," a burger wrapped in a pizza, the ads featured rugged men through the ages complaining about their woolly mammoth meat, gruel and medieval bread. "Eat one for me," they pleaded.

The approach has worked. In 2009 and 2010, Boston Pizza's same-store sales (sales at locations open for more than a year, an important measure for retailers) fell by 3.15 per cent. During the campaign, Boston Pizza has enjoyed 11 straight quarters of sales growth, and an annual growth rate of 3.84 per cent on average, significantly ahead of its competitors.

But now, the company is moving in a new direction.

This week, it launched a new campaign and a new brand tagline – "We'll Make You a Fan." And while it still counts dads among its target customers, it is shifting communications to include moms more often.

"We felt there was an opportunity to be more inclusive," said Steve Silverstone, executive vice-president of marketing for Boston Pizza. "The message will be family-focused."

The chain will emphasize its connection to sports – its locations include both sports bars and family-friendly dining rooms, with televisions tuned to sports throughout. The debut ad for this new approach launched on Saturday during Hockey Night in Canada, and featured a deliberate mix of images: kids' sports teams, and an even balance of male and female athletes, to appeal to women as well as men.

That's important because, according to industry research, 85 per cent of Canadians watch sports, and 47 per cent of that audience is female. Seventy-one per cent of children between the ages of 12 to 18 play sports.

"Mom is participating in sport, and bringing her kids to the soccer pitch or the arena," Mr. Silverstone said. "Sports is a huge connection point."

The attention to sports is not entirely new. Boston Pizza is currently a sponsor of the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets, as well as Hockey Canada. Its sponsorship of the Toronto Blue Jays led to the creation of "Jr. Jays Saturdays," kid-targeted events at the ballpark, to reinforce its connection with families.

The sports message is now playing a bigger role in the company's advertising than it has in some time, however. The marketing team may seek to negotiate additional sponsorships as the campaign evolves.

Boston Pizza's advertising agency for this campaign, Taxi, also created its "Here to Make You Happy" spots.

Departure from a winning strategy is not an easy move for marketers. The first ad in the new campaign was also a shift in tone for Boston Pizza. For years its ads have been distinctly tongue-in-cheek. The first ad is unusually earnest. That change, however, is not permanent.

The second spot, which launches on Monday, features a young boy who torments his parents with his fondness for heckling. Future ads will be "entertaining slices of life," Mr. Silverstone said.

"Humour is a big part of the brand."

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