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Eat'n Park's 'Christmas card' of the little star that could celebrates 30th year

| Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Eat’n Park Christmas star commercial that celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

Not many ad campaigns have gone unchanged for 30 years, but since 1982, Eat'n Park has aired the same “Christmas Star” commercial every year.

As much of a holiday staple as the Horne's tree, the Macy's Parade or “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the animated commercial — featuring a tiny star struggling to reach its place at the top of the tree until the tree bends to lift it up — has aired annually since 1982.

Jeff Broadhurst, CEO of Homestead-based Eat'n Park Hospitality and son of former CEO Jim Broadhurst, said his father intended the spot to be a “thank you” and a gift for the community.

“The reason it was even requested was that it was a landmark year for Eat'n Park, and Jim Broadhurst was so excited about the Pittsburgh region, so touched that people were supporting his restaurant, that he said ‘I have a little money, I want to make a video holiday card for the community,'” said Craig Otto, who was a young art director at Ketchum Advertising, who helped create the ad along with copywriter Cathy Bowen.

“It's unusual when you have a client in this business say they want something to last 25 years,” said Otto, now a partner and creative director at Downtown-based Dymon+Company.

Jeff Broadhurst and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl commemorated the ad's 30th anniversary on Friday at Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville with cookies and activities for kids, and marked another company tradition: The 34th annual Caring for Kids campaign, in which Eat'n Park employees raise money and volunteer time for the hospital.

The campaign raised $345,000 for Children's Hospital last year, and has raised a total of $8 million for Children's since it began, Broadhurst said. More specific events for the campaign and the Christmas Star anniversary will be announced starting Monday, he said.

Audrey Guskey, a professor of marketing at Duquesne University, said it's unusual for a commercial message to have such staying power. While some companies like Alka-Seltzer are trying to stir nostalgia or revive characters from old ads, Guskey couldn't think of any that had continuously run the same commercials every year.

“In today's marketing world, nothing sticks; everything changes,” she said. “Companies think everything should be fresh.”

It helps that the Pittsburgh market tends to be older, people tend not to move in and out, and multiple generations can become familiar with the same ad.

“Pittsburghers tend to like our traditions and nostalgia,” said Guskey, who said she was the first of three generations in her family to associate the Christmas Star commercial with the start of the holiday season.

“It's not promotional, it's more about promoting the human spirit, promoting joy, than it is about selling Smiley cookies,” Otto said.

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