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Health, Value, and Humor Work Best for Attracting Customers
New audit breaks down which advertising strategies yield stronger customer connections.

When it comes to quick-serve brand impressions and considerations, consumers are more likely to be persuaded by the every day people in Subway’s television ads, who ask for such things as an “extra large jelly belly” or a “can-my-butt-look-any- bigger- meal,” rather than the Oreo cookie mustache-donning duo from Domino’s or the tree-kicking, red wig-wearing protagonist from Wendy’s, according to a new study conducted by Boston, Massachusetts–based Communications & Brand Analytics (CBA), a Phoenix Marketing International firm

CBA used brand-leading indicators, advertising performance, and reports on consumer perceptions and visitation behavior to determine its findings. Based on those parameters, Subway’s advertising earned the highest marks in a syndicated category audit of 20 top quick-serve brands.

According to the audit, 26 percent of the more than 1,000 respondents identified Subway as their favorite quick-serve brand. Wendy’s came in second with 21 percent, and McDonald was third at 17 percent. Fourth and fifth places went to Quiznos with 15 percent and Burger King with 12 percent.

“What seems to be driving the market are messages around not only value for the money, but healthy alternatives to traditional quick-serve food,” says Jeniefer Lessard, CBA’s vice president. “Plus, the Subway ads were humorous. We found that nine of the top 10 quick-service ads focus on healthier and value meals and that humor is a major driver of ad response. ”

The survey platform, CBA’s AdPi Audit, provided evaluations of present CBA quick-serve client ads running in the market. The quick-serve restaurant industry, Lessard says, is the latest to use the firm’s proprietary approach, which involves online data collection and customized predictive modeling and reporting.

“The bulk of quick-serve media dollars are in television advertising,” she adds. “Our subscribers use this information to track brand health and during the creative process with ad agencies. These AdPi Audits enable our clients to make strategic decisions and get the most for their marketing dollars.”

Lessard declined to provide names of CBA clients and would not reveal what she called the proprietary methods of AdPi Audits.

She did, however, explain that respondents had to have visited a quick-serve at least twice in the last 30 days and be 18 to 64 years old. While twice in a month was the minimum, more than a third of respondents reported visiting quick-serves three to four times a week, with male and female respondents showing equal attendance.

Each respondent viewed four television ads and were then asked three questions:

  • Was the ad informative?
  • Was this the first time viewing the ad?
  • Did the ad make the viewer more likely to recommend or visit the featured quick-serve?

Along with the Subway ads, a CiCi’s Pizza ad featuring its pasta, pizza, salad and dessert for under $5, as well as spots from Dairy Queen and Papa Johns, were identified in the audit as great response drivers. Among the poorest performing ads were Burger King’s Italian Chicken Sandwich, featuring a shot of the product with Italian music, the Domino's Oreo mustache, and the Wendy’s red wig campaigns.

We found that nine of the top 10 quick-service ads focus on healthier and value meals and that humor is a major driver of ad response. ”

According to the survey findings, 58 percent of respondents said Subway had the most positive brand impression, while a close second was Wendy’s with 50 percent. Rounding out the top 10 quick-serves in terms of positive brand impression were KFC (42 percent), Pizza Hut (41 percent), Arby’s and Quiznos (40 percent), McDonald’s (39 percent), Burger King and Chick-fil-A (35 percent), and Taco Bell (34 percent).

Fifty-five (55) percent of respondents gave Subway the No. 1 spot when it came to brand consideration. McDonald’s and Wendy’s tied for second with 50 percent, followed by KFC, Sonic, and a four-way tie between Arby’s, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, and Quiznos for fifth place with 39 percent.

“While Wendy’s is second behind Subway, its last campaign with the red wig didn’t do much for the quick-serve at all,” Lessard says. “They were really weird spots. The wig on the guy may have been a little creepy. Even Wendy’s said the campaign didn’t do too much, and they have since switched ad agencies and to an animated little red-haired girl.”

Officials from Domino’s, Subway, and Wendy’s did not immediately return calls placed by QSR.

While Subway’s recent ads might have proved successful, its ace in the hole is Jared Fogle, who is celebrating his tenth year as the sub sommelier. Moreover, that message of health and value has proved profitable for Subway to the tune of more than $8.2 billion in sales.