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Restaurant Awareness Drives Preference

The advertising pay-off for the food service industry

This article is a brief abstract of our exclusive study that takes the guesswork 
out of food service advertising and marketing.

Download the complete 2017 Southwest Food Service Marketing Report


Marketing and advertising agencies like to use this well-known maxim: Awareness drives preference. It’s agency-speak for “buy a lot of media”—TV, radio, outdoor, digital, direct mail. This could be interpreted as a money-making ploy. After all, full-service marketing agencies usually earn commissions on placed media. But reach and frequency does indeed drive preference. The idea is simple: high brand recognition results in consumer purchases. This is why movie studios bombard us with trailers and why some companies’ spots seem to be permanent fixtures wherever our eyes land.

We were expecting to see the same thing in our food service industry marketing survey. Or maybe we were crossing our fingers. But we were pleasantly surprised to see an extremely strong link between brand awareness and consumer behavior.


When answering a survey question about which fast-food restaurant does the “very best job at advertising,” 23% of respondents chose McDonald’s. No shocker there. McDonald’s is the 19th largest global advertiser, and it spends the most of any restaurant brand in the United States. This high awareness aligns with the 21% of respondents who said McDonald’s is their most frequented fast-food restaurant. Yes, it helps that McDonald’s has the most restaurants in the United States of any quick service restaurant (QSR) other than Subway. But store proliferation alone can’t buy preference. Advertising does the trick. Offering breakfast all day helps, too. 

The same marketing strategy works for the restaurant business runner-up, Subway, which was selected by 11% of our respondents as the fast-food restaurant where they most often dine. That corresponds closely to the 13% who said it has the best advertising among quick service restaurants.

From there, the comparisons between perceived advertising campaign quality and reported purchasing behavior among restaurant industry competitors fall away. The other top “best advertising” restaurants (Jack in the Box, Sonic, KFC and Taco Bell) don’t match up with those most visited (Chipotle, Wendy’s, Panera Bread and Burger King). But the numbers driving the percent ranking are small—right behind them at just a percent or 2 behind are KFC, Taco Bell and Jack in the Box.

 In their own words:

Survey responders said...

  • On KFC: “It’s interesting to see who the new person will be playing Colonel Sanders.”
  • On Taco Bell: “They always have new menu items to talk about, and always provide something informative about their new and old dishes. Their ads are also somewhat funny.”

  • On Subway: “Videos of sandwiches are always beautiful and have a fresh and healthy edge.”

2017 Southwest Food Service Marketing Report

Marketing Report Brochure

This article is a brief abstract of our exclusive and authoritative study that takes the guesswork out of food service advertising and marketing. Rather than speculating about what will drive consumers to action, we've asked them.

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