Sharilyn Johnson

The Rec Room: 2020 Brand Tone Guidelines

Client: Cineplex (In-House)  //  Date: 2019-2020
The Team: Erikson Melton, Mike Spicer, Mike Lucas, Rob Lazar


What’s The Rec Room?

A Canadian chain of entertainment and dining venues that I describe to Americans as “a hipper Dave & Busters.” They feature activities like bowling and arcade games, and live entertainment from trivia to drag brunches to dance parties.

Why our guidelines needed an overhaul:

Initially, the team was tasked with producing a new always-on brand video to replace the long-in-the-tooth version that played during Cineplex movie theater preshows.

That spot featured some bros embarking on an over-the-top wild night that began at The Rec Room, with a throbbing techno beat underneath it, positioning The Rec Room as a place to pre-game. It did us no favors.

This task was instantly bigger than what a single shoot could solve.

The problem:

The Rec Room doesn’t just try to be a lot of things to a lot of people — it is a lot of things to a lot of people.

Each of the eight locations across Canada serve a different demographic with different needs. Toronto Roundhouse is hot with tourist families, while Mississauga Square One is where young adults go when they’ve grown out of the Playdium arcade chain.

If we weren’t just an early stop on a frat boy pub crawl, who were we?

This wasn’t working for us.

The before:

The brand guidelines – both tone and visual – were a mess. Internally, Marketing considered the Rec Room brand “premium.” The produced work said otherwise.

We were all over the map based on who the target audience was for a particular deal or event. Ads were covered in ascii emojis and outdated just-cuz hashtags. 

Our old tone of voice guidelines cited our brand persona as “Jimmy Fallon.” It’s no wonder we lacked a strong POV (nothin’ personal, Jimmy). 

We needed to take a step back, refine our value prop, and strongly communicate all three brand pillars (food, games, entertainment) in a way that was as elevated as Marketing aspired the brand to be, but keep its kid-at-heart night-out vibe.

The new guidelines.

I saw no need to totally invent the wheel. I examined what did work, and what those executions had in common.

Some existing pieces – like drink coasters with “put a ring on it” – were nailing the right tone of voice.

But “right” needed to be put into words. While our design team refined our look (goodbye, secondary color palette!), I got to work on new tone of voice guidelines (goodbye, Jimmy!).

How the guidelines manifested in the creative

With a newly-repaired foundation, it became clear that we could solve our original creative problem by leaning into it.

The Rec Room is many things to many people — so naturally, it can mean many things to YOU. 

Every experience at The Rec Room is different, and the best way to illustrate that was through specificity. We’d do more than cite our three pillars (food, games, and entertainment). We’d drill down to individual actions that spark thousands of joyful or memorable moments for guests every day.

This “experience list” would carry across every piece of campaign creative — including that original always-on video.

Internally, we referred to this big idea as “the power of possibilities.” However, since the executions were largely copy-driven, I felt the campaign should live without a tagline.

Plot twist.

The arrival of COVID-19 thwarted the video shoot by mere weeks, and killed the brand media spend. (Needless to say, we suddenly had a revenue prob.)

However, I implemented the new  tone of voice for smaller campaigns throughout the pandemic and the onsite directional signage displayed when we re-opened (and then closed, and then re-opened… it was a wild time). 

Service-Level Signage

Heading into the summer of 2020, we prepared for gradual re-openings. For venues that featured everything from dining to axe-throwing, there were plenty of safety rules to communicate onsite.

These are a few examples of my straightforward messages that leveraged the new tone guidelines.