Which Fast Food Brands Are Thriving During COVID

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Photo by Louis Hansel

One of the most competitive markets in the U.S is the fast food sector. With $50 billion spent on fast food annually, this market is extremely lucrative, but competition is fierce. Brands have to constantly outperform each other, and nowhere is this war harder fought than on the battlegrounds of social media.

Skirmishes often take place behind the scenes with brands leveraging highly targeted paid social media advertising, or “dark ads” that aren’t viewable by the general public, to target a very specific audience. 

Now, the curtain is drawn back on this ferocious combat, as we use BrandTotal’s proprietary tools and insights to see how brands are reaching consumers, how they’re differentiating their offerings, and how each brand uses a unique approach to paid social media advertising. 

Specifically, we’ll look at which brands are thriving in the context of COVID-19, with the period under review being 15 August - 30 September 2020. 

Overall Metrics

BrandTotal’s platform allows us to see the entire marketin this case fast foodand then dive into more granular insights that can be strategic tools for decision making. 

Some of the brands explored during this period include McDonalds, Burger King, Arby’s, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Domino’s and KFC.

In terms of overall Share of Voice (SOV), this is a very crowded space.  Leading in sponsored impressions, KFC has 23%, Arby’s has 17% and Wendy’s has 16%. With video views, Wendy’s was the clear winner, racking up an impressive 170m views over this period. Contrast that with Taco Bell’s 72m. Overall engagements had Arby’s (820k) and Wendy’s (560k) on the leaderboard, but Dunkin’ stole the show with 1.6m engagements over this period.  

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Social Media Channels Preferred

Which social media channels were preferred by each brand, and by the industry as a whole? Instagram was the leading channel across this space, which makes sense given the visual nature of their offerings, and the connection between seeing food and wanting to order immediately. Notable exceptions are McDonald’s, which chose Youtube (70%) and Twitter (30%) as their channels of choice, and Taco Bell who also mainly preferred Youtube, with some usage of Facebook and Instagram. 

Sponsored vs Organic 

When it comes to the balance between sponsored and organic posts, there were also some fascinating results: around 90% of Wendy’s posts are sponsored, compared to only 30% of McDonald’s. Similarly the dark versus publicly viewable campaigns tells an interesting story; Wendy’s being 90% dark and McDonald’s only 11%. Almost all brands reviewed had a majority of dark posts – meaning that without BrandTotal’s platform, one wouldn’t be able to see the majority of what competitor brands are actually doing when it comes to paid social media advertising.

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What’s also super interesting is the difference in messaging between public and dark ads. Dark ads tend to assume a familiarity with the brand, and present a more specific message. A great example of this is Burger King; their public ads show general meals and deals, while their dark ads show rich close-ups of specific ingredients and highlight the authenticity of their products. 

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How much are people saying about each brand, and how much of that is positive? BrandTotal’s unique Sentiment Analysis capabilities allow users to get in-depth insights into social media sentiment around specific brands or whole industries. While other social listening tools track overall web conversations, the BrandTotal’s Sentiment Analysis sheds light on targeted users’ reactions to the ads of particular brands.

Since most of the ads of such brands are dark, BrandTotal is uniquely positioned to give unparalleled insights into what the specific targeted audience feels about particular ads or campaigns, and how messages resonate with them. Of course, since the ads are dark, this type of Sentiment Analysis is exclusive to BrandTotal.

Using BrandTotal’s Sentiment Analysis capabilities, we see that McDonald’s attracts by far the most opinion; but on a brand-by-brand basis, it’s Chick-Fil-A that gets the highest net sentiment score of 1%, compared to a category-wide score of -16%.

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Diving deeper into each brand and their specific strategies, it’s worth noting the demographics of the audience they’re each targeting. For example, some brands target males and females roughly equally – McDonalds (50% males, 50% females) Taco Bell (53%, 47%) and Domino’s: (58%, 42%) – while others target a particular gender: Burger King (73% males, 27% females), Wendy’s (65%, 35%), Chipotle (68%, 32%), Chick-fil-A (77%, 33%) and KFC (69%, 31%).

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In terms of age brackets targeted, most of the brands showed a sharper targeting towards the 18-34 age group. The notable exception was Taco Bell, which targeted all ages relatively evenly.  

Brand Highlights

What were the messages that brands were pushing in their paid social media campaigns? Were there any common threads, and how were they managing to thrive during Covid-19?

In general, brands pushed 2 main messages: 

  1. Price/value proposition,

  2. Contactless/delivery/pickup options

Investigating paid campaigns with the most engagement, these two messages were used consistently across the brands. What follows are some highlights:

Burger King

Burger King pushed their “2 for $5 promotion”, using stylized 70’s-inspired creatives. Their “Ever wondered how much it costs to make a flame-grilled Whopper at home?” campaign plays on the fact that consumers might be tempted to eat in, instead of grabbing dinner from the restaurant. 

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Taco Bell

Taco Bell promoted their “$5 nachos”, highlighting the value of their offering and directly competing with others at the $t price point. Their campaigns highlight flexible options for consumers, such as being able to order ahead and pick up at the drive thru.

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As with many other brands explored during this period, Wendy’s showcased their value/deal combination, with their “Wendy’s 4 for $4” campaign

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The Chipotle put their COVID-related fundraising efforts front-and-center when it came to their paid social media efforts. Though like others, they were sure to emphasize flexible delivery options.

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Not only emphasizing delivery options, but also delivery partners, Chick-fil-A has their take on getting fast food to consumers – fast.

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Like many of the others, Domino’s emphasizes their special for ordering online. What’s super interesting is this campaign: launching their chicken taco & cheeseburger pizza (with delivery, of course), putting Taco Bell and the burger restaurants directly in their sites.

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With campaigns geared more towards meals and families, KFC highlights contactless options and flexible delivery.

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Much has been written about McDonald’s successful Travis Scott promotion, which of course has been featured strongly in their paid promotions on social media. True to form, and not to be left behind, McDonald’s also highlights their contactless and McDelivery options with their sponsored campaigns.

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Fast Food Thriving Through Social Media Advertising

Thanks to the BrandTotal platform, we were able to see how fast food brands are thriving during corona-affected times. By competing on value and flexible ways for consumers to access their products, these brands are not letting any one competitor get ahead; they are constantly duking it out with paid social media campaigns to ensure that their offering is chosen by a fickle consumer market. 

Given these unique insights and perspectives, here are some of the key takeaways that you can leverage in order to stand out:

  • Dark, targeted ads can use a more granular approach to connect with the target audience
  • Stay current and relevant – fast food companies offering flexible delivery options during Corona is a great example of brands being agile in terms of their messaging
  • Leading with price is an effective tool for social media campaigns
  • Tantalising, eye-catching imagery is a key mechanism in designing effective paid social media campaigns
  • There isn’t one “right” channel for paid campaigns – choose the channels that work best for you
  • Focus on one or two main channels
  • Pay close attention to sentiment around your brand and campaigns, especially dark campaigns – this is key feedback from your target audience and allows you to keep your finger on the pulse of your most loyal customers
  • Sentiment analysis should be integral to KPI measurement and management
To see what BrandTotal can do for your business, sign up for a demo.

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