5 Things We LOVE About Sonic’s New Brand Identity and Restaurant Design

August 25, 2020

SONIC illustration

SONIC – the largest drive-in restaurant chain in the US – sought to dust off its retro brand image rooted back to its 1953 founding and carhop-infused nostalgia. SONIC is launching itself into the future with recently completed bold makeover that includes a new brand identity and restaurant design.

The brand’s reinvention began less than four months after Inspire Brands’ December 2018 acquisition of the drive-in brand. That’s when SONIC selected us as their partner to rebrand it to stand out against competitors and lean into the next era of growth.

While looking to the future was important, so too was drawing upon the brand’s equity as an American original and its iconic menu. Specific design requirements were clearly defined, but above all else, the new brand identity and restaurant design needed to listen to what guests desire today without abandoning SONIC’s classic charm.

SONIC restaurant design rendering with new brand identity by ChangeUp SONIC restaurant design with new brand identity by ChangeUp actual image from Tahlequah, OK

Here are the 5 things we LOVED most about designing the SONIC of the future…

  1. Behold the power of listening to consumers.

    In partnership with the SONIC leadership team, we took the time to understand who the guest is – and what the brand represents to them by looking at both the brand’s legacy and its future. We learned that the lifestyle people lead today (pre-pandemic) is always rushing around, and what we heard from SONIC guests was ‘SONIC is that moment that I can get to myself,” and “that moment I can have with my family after school in the car.” The insights gathered ensured we were able to capture the brand’s heart and charm with a renewed purpose of “being a little oasis in everyone’s daily routine,” and a promise to “spark moments of delightful possibility.”

  2. The secret sauce? A modern visual identity system.

    The bold new logo design has a charm and quirkiness that’s all its own with a punched-up color palette, iconography, and fresh food and lifestyle photography. You can find the new identity system across a range of touchpoints, including packaging, mobile app, digital media, and uniforms (including the classic roller skates that carhops rock). It also comes to life in a big way with the new restaurant design. For example, the stripes from the identity system were translated as lenticulars on the side of the building, which seems to move with you as they change color as you drive around the building.

  3. It is definitely not a copycat.

    At the beginning of the design process, a benchmark audit of other QSR competitors set the bar for success. We pushed to think of this initiative as something only SONIC could pull off – a truly one-of-a-kind brand experience that extends beyond the cool menu. “What’s exciting about the new restaurant design is that it was created in concert with the brand identity,” said Ryan Brazelton, Executive Creative Director at ChangeUp. “There is a purpose behind every element of this design – from patio options to drive-in docks and the optimized drive-thru to the extension of the strong brand identity into the restaurant.”

  4. Double drive-thru lanes & operational efficiency are the cherry on top.

    A blue glass tower featuring a brightly-lit neon cherry – a nod to the 9 million Cherry Limeades that SONIC sells each year – elevates the drive-thru and stands out at night. The design also includes a brand-new kitchen layout that enables SONIC teams to operate more efficiently, in conjunction with the double drive-thru thereby improving throughput and speed-of-service.

  5. More outdoor space with new patio and boardwalk.

    While guests can order from one of the car docks, they also have the option to place and enjoy their order outside. The newly designed patio allows guests to dine under string lights with lawn games, and the boardwalk is a new layout that brings the docks to the front of the building creating another outdoor experience under lighted canopies.

The prototype opened in Tahlequah, OK in June 2020 with a second location opening in Ft. Worth, TX in mid-August. Starting next year, all of SONIC’s newly opened locations will feature the new design and existing restaurants will begin to convert.

But the reason behind SONIC’s relaunch is whether the new look is pulling in more people and driving more orders. The answer – at least with the first store opened thus far – has been a definite, yes. Its business is up an additional 60-70% on top of every other SONIC and is running positive 80% year over year.

Want to learn more? Read what media such as Forbes, Ad Age, Nation’s Restaurant News, QSR, and Yahoo! Finance are touting about the new design and click through to our case study to see the portfolio.