What digital marketing does for the fast food industry

Really smart and creative people spend hours thinking of the ads to serve you so you walk to the nearest store or place an order online.
26 October 2018

There’s a lot of competition in the market these days. Source: Shutterstock

Do you know how much the fast food industry is worth? Globally, it generates more than US$570 billion per annum — a third of the GDP of Canada and a fifth of the GDP of the United Kingdom.

According to Statista, the industry is worth about US$200 billion here in the United States alone, and by 2020, this figure is expected to exceed 223 billion.

“The majority of this large market is comprised of on-premises restaurants and drive-thrus, the rest consists of off-premises dining (take out) and cafeterias and buffets,” estimated the consumer and market data company.

In fact, it is believed that in 2016, there were 186,977 franchised quick service restaurants in the US — a number that’s growing every month despite the rising health concerns making headlines these days.

Believe it or not, social media and other targeted digital marketing capabilities have a lot to do with the success of the fast food industry.

McDonald’s, for example, spends US$2 billion per annum on ads. Competitors Burger King and Subway spend close to US$1.22 billion and US$486 million respectively. Starbucks spends about US$ 280 to 370 million and Pizza Hut invested about US$210 million.

That’s just a handful of brands spending more on digital advertising than the entire healthcare industry in the US.

Those funds are carefully channeled into social media advertising campaigns that carefully track users, their tastes, preferences, and their behaviors online and on social media platforms, and sell to them at the right time.

Have you ever noticed how a McDonald’s ad appears on your Facebook wall just as your Uber is about to pass by an outlet, or a Subway ad shows up below the story you’re reading on your way to the office after a mid-morning meeting at a client’s office?

All of these fast food companies work with tech-savvy specialists who team up with creative geniuses to create more and more compelling campaigns every day.

It’s also important to note that most of the biggest fast food brands don’t just rely on the best in-house talent that they acquire and groom, but also some of the best minds in the advertising industry who work with some of the biggest agencies.

Going back to McDonald’s who holds the biggest ad budget in the fast food industry — the company works with We Are Unlimited — a dedicated agency created by Omnicom and staffed with 200 of the smartest advertising people from Google, Twitter, Adobe, and the New York Times’ T-Brand Studio.

They spend their time thinking about how to entice customers to step into the stores or pick up their phones and place an order for a scrumptious (and quick) meal.

To be fair, the calculated investments that these brands make in digital advertising usually earns them better returns than traditional media (which is why a bigger chunk of ad budgets are being allocated to digital instead of TV and print these days).

It’s also a lesson to other brands and industries that it’s worth taking the time to understand digital ads and remember that social media and digital search and display ads can be the competitive advantage that so many of them are looking for these days.