The Communications Habits
of the Fastest-Growing Quick Service Restaurant Brands
Four QSR brands are striking out with novel communications.
After analyzing hundreds of assets across the category, our StoryData™ results reveal four outlier brands: Chick-fil-A, Jersey Mike’s, Taco Bell, and Panera Bread. Chick-fil-A tells the most emotional and consumer-centric stories; Jersey Mike’s doubles down on identity with distinctive logo, slogan, and end card placements; Taco Bell leads with product innovation; and Panera Bread distinguishes itself as the “100% clean” fast-casual option.
The majority of QSR brand stories are product-focused.
In terms of creative execution, the language and imagery of most QSR ads cluster around product features. Though product demonstrations deliver important information, they do not help build long-term brand equity. Overall, there is a huge opportunity for QSR brands to tell more emotional stories that address consumer beliefs and cultural touchpoints, which will help create more mental brand equity — a leading input to long-term growth. The category currently trades by exploiting existing brand equity, which is a growth-limiting strategy over time.
Three kinds of words dominate QSR video ads.
Using natural language processing to identify the top words used by the category, we see three themes emerge: ingredients, flavor, and conversion words (e.g., go, get, and buy). The three word buckets are highly rational and mobilized to exploit consumer cravings today. To resonate beyond the immediate now, QSR brands should diversify their communications with emotional appeals, which are proven to create growth for the long haul.
Simplicity is king.
On average, QSR brands communicate two messages per campaign, which is too many. When the messages in an ad increase from one to two, consumer recall drops from 37% to 31% (source: Kantar Millward Brown). For enduring brand salience, reiterate one singular brand story over time — with a bold, relevant message, differentiated and surprising creative, and smart media investments.
The fastest-growing QSR brands are over-indexing media spend on TV.
Across the category, brands are investing heavily in TV and paying minimal attention to addressable media like online video, mobile, and social video. Though TV offers broad and efficient reach, the entire category is prioritizing media spend on this channel, creating a sea of sameness for consumers. To differentiate from the pack, increase the impact of their media dollars, and create stronger relationships with consumers, QSR brands should incorporate more addressable digital channels.