The fast show

Together KFC, McDonald’s and Burger King have a global social media audience of over 250m people. These aren’t brands, they are superstars. This kind of popularity doesn’t happen by accident. We take a look at how the fast food giants continue to feed their audience’s appetite with fun, emotional and entertaining content, and what we can take away from their example.

A fat, saturated market

The market for fast food is vast, saturated and highly competitive. Just think about it, how many ways can you say “Eat more burgers”? It’s very limiting subject matter. There’s little differentiation between products too, which makes persuading people that your £3 burger is significantly better than the other guy’s £3 burger almost impossible. The promise of fast food is not about great food choices. Everyone knows it’s unhealthy, so instead of talking about product attributes on social, they focus on building personality and recreating and the carb-fuelled, sugar high that fast food delivers — with zero guilt. They sell the sizzle, not the sausage.

These brands have understood a universal truth of marketing. If you are entertaining, sound human and make your customer feel like you ‘get’ them, they will like you and buy your products. Hence the creation of memorably entertaining brand personalities. People are too busy chuckling to care about the downsides.

Meanwhile, over in the health and fitness aisle…

Take a look at many health and fitness brands on social and everything suddenly feels a lot more serious. Check out Beyond Meat, Linda McCartney or even fitness brands like PureGym. Lots of purposeful, functional, benefit-led messaging, but hot damn, where’s the FUN? Compare that with KFC’s social feed.

So, what? Well, it’s hard to argue with the sheer numbers. KFC has 52 million Facebook followers: 1000x times as many as Linda has. How did they achieve this? How do they maintain interest? And what can your brand learn from their social strategy?

Getting fame and followers the fast food way

The core audience for fast food is young men. 60% of 18–29 year-old men eat fast food at least once a week. This audience uses social media heavily, 88% use social media platforms, and spend up to an hour per day, per platform. By our reckoning, that means they consume several hundred social posts a day. Even so, given organic reach of around 1%, they will never see many of the posts aimed at them.

Getting their attention is hard. So, how do you cut through the noise to be seen and remembered? Well, look at this example from KFC.

Finger lickin’ good tactics

“Colonel Saunders secret recipe” made with 11 herbs and spices has been part of KFC’s brand story for years, always there but rarely advertised (like Coke’s secret recipe). Then, last year, its social team did something strange. They quietly unfollowed almost everyone. For weeks, no-one noticed. And finally, this tweet came from one of their fans.

The Internet was greatly pleased by this and @edgette22’s tweet went viral, garnering 312,000 retweets and 720,000 likes in just a few days. But KFC’s social team weren’t done yet. They told him to ‘look out for a package in the post’ and commissioned an oil painting of Colonel Sanders giving Edgette a piggyback while he wields a drumstick.

It was such a leftfield response that another wave of internet applause followed, along with acres of free coverage from The Mail, Huffpost, Mashable, The Sun and so on. Even the conspiracy theory that followed, claiming it was all a setup gained 124,000 reactions on reddit. That’s when you know you’ve nailed it.

Now consider what went into this stunt.

  • Creative thinking time to create the idea: considerable
  • Execution: a few thousand dollars
  • Positive brand emotions generated: priceless

Make me laugh, and I’m yours

The originality and creativity underpinning this stunt comes from a deep understanding of how people behave on social media. Emotional responses trigger sharing and the top three shareable emotions are:

  1. Amusement
  2. Interest
  3. Surprise

Unsurprisingly then, the world’s most popular emoji is this one:

Even so, it’s not just about being funny and surprising.

A Burger, a beer and a brand collaboration

When Burger King ‘rang’ Budweiser and recreated the classic ‘Whassup’ advert as part of a brand collaboration, they were hoping for a hit.

They weren’t disappointed. Followers immediately piled in on the joke, pummelling their timelines with responses, gifs and shares, ensuring it reached an audience of millions. It’s unclear how much time and effort it took the social team to come up with the idea, but in terms of our newly made-up metric, CPL (cost per LOL), we’re sure it was money very well spent.

Pop culture perfect

The formula is simple: take something widely known, give it a twist and send it back out there. Then include an opportunity to participate, invite people to share the ‘joke’ and that’s pretty much how pop culture works. These brands have elevated this tactic into an art form.

Execution is cheap, certainly compared with TV, and you don’t have to be a global brand to carry it off. You do have to invest in great ideas, know the brand’s personality inside out and really engage with your audience.

Lukewarm pasties and red-hot banter

Greggs understand this perfectly. If organic reach is dead, Greggs doesn’t seem to have got the memo.

What do you have to do to get love like this from your fans?

Well, Greggs’s posts range from one-liners that riff on the reality gap between food ads and actual product from many fast food outlets…

…and this one that plays with ‘Legs or hotdogs?’ meme…

… to bigger stunts like the ‘Gregory and Gregory’ makeover, where the company posed as a vendor at an upmarket food festival to hoodwink foodies into praising its new salad range.

If fleshes out day-to-day activity with posts that invite customer engagement. For example, it responds with levity (and free pasties) to inbound customer questions like ‘Why does Britney Spears follow Greggs?’. Often their content is hilariously surreal, like this standalone post that prompted more User Generated Content (UGC) than many brands get in a whole month:

Don’t get the joke?
 Read the responses.

Still don’t get it?
 Then don’t worry, it’s not aimed at you.

Greggs’s customers get it. And they love it.

This creative thinking has brought Greggs’s marketing national fame despite not having any kind of Above The Line brand advertising budget. “We punch well above our weight given our small spend on digital channels,” as CEO Roger Whiteside put it.

In an age where overcoming consumer apathy towards brands sometimes feels like an impossible task, great creative makes all the difference.

Boosted power resurrects reach

These examples seem to flat-out contradict the measurable decline of organic reach that has led many to see social media as just another ad channel.

That’s true, but organic posting still has a role to play. As long as organic reach is above 0%, it provides clear signals about what’s working with your core audiences. Closely monitoring organic engagement and boosting your best performing posts can give you huge additional reach for relatively small spend. We’ve seen the best posts getting in excess of 10x the reach of an average post for the same spend. Each new audience sees, reacts and shares your promoted post. It’s a powerful multiplier effect. And, you can bet that the fast food giant’s social media teams are doing just that.

But… where are the influencers?

Notably absent from this piece so far is any discussion of influencer marketing, a complete reversal of our focus when looking at the vegan market. Yes, there’s influencer activity: Kendall Jenner helped Burger King reach a million likes for example, but they aren’t the main focus of most brands’ efforts.

That’s because influencer marketing is all about role models and status. There’s no status in fast food. It’s cheap, fun, instant and disposable. Leave the aspirational stuff at the door, this stuff works because it accepts you as you are, tells you a great joke and hands you a bacon butty. Just like a mate would. ­­­­

The takeaways from takeaways

At this point, it’s tempting to wrap this up. There are some obvious points to make, which are;

  • Functional or boring output is ignored. Memorable creative goes viral.
  • Humour and surprise cut through.
  • Test content organically, then maximise reach with paid support.
  • Influencers aren’t that important here. Creativity is.

Just one more thing…

Unfortunately, there’s a problem: McDonald’s. Wouldn’t you just know it?

Why has McDonald’s UK been investing in influencer posts from Loose Women and X-Factor presenter Stacey Solomon?

And what’s going on with its mumsnet collaboration?

It’s hardly side-splitting stuff.

Fast, cheap and good

Faced with declining profits and increasing regulation, McDonalds has changed its strategy. In a recent interview, McDonald’s UK CEO indicates that expanding beyond the core ‘young male’ audience is key to growth. In order to break through to a family market, Mcdonald’s need to shift focus to ‘quality’ in order to address some awkward product issues. To add to the problem, HFSS (High in Fat, Sugar and Salt) advertising rules are placing limitations what fast food brands like Mcdonald’s can say and when they can say it.

The bantz brigade may not care about obesity, family fun days, McJobs or animal welfare, but mums tend to. That’s important; kids don’t buy their own Happy Meals after all. And McDonald’s can’t just ignore these issues. Check out the comments on their social posts, the campaigners refuse to let it lie.

So, after years of persuading us to ‘supersize it’, McDonald’s are now rowing hard towards an image of responsible family-friendly quality. Out goes the banter and in comes caring, responsible, family fun. Positioning Mcdonald’s as a treat the whole family can enjoy is fundamental to their appeal, and the restaurant environment has been adapted to reflect this. Scan their social feeds and the typically blokey stuff is still there, but there are now as many posts about Rainforest Alliance certified coffee, family fun days and charity work as there are about burgers and nuggets. It’s a fine line. McDonald’s has the reverse problem of the health brands: it needs to be seen as more ethical, environmental, responsible and serious so that it can carve out a new niche.

Quit bugging me!

By contrast, health and fitness brands could do with being more lighthearted. To maximise growth, they need to persuade people outside their traditional core audiences that they are approachable, fun and won’t nag you about your bad habits. Many ads for healthy food and fitness products are an awkward reminder that we aren’t healthy or fit enough. Humour and relatability defuses these tensions, making it emotionally safe for people to engage, share the joke and feel good about themselves.

Wow, No Cow’s brand know-how

Take Oatly, for example. It has a strong brand personality that is quirky, funny and, at times, gloriously bizarre. Its social feeds are all about laughter, curiosity and building fame focusing on great taste first and purpose second.

Its playful tone pervades every aspect of its marketing.

It’s packed full of purpose-driven messages but they’re always delivered with silliness and self-deprecating humour. They know just what people hate about the ‘worthiness’ of health food brands.

Result: fans, followers and a fabulous growth rate (80% in the last year alone).

Now head over to competitor Alpro’s social feeds. In comparison, they are very dull. Alpro’s sales grew 16% in the same period. Not shabby at all, but Oatly grew 5x faster.

Branding in outer space

Similarly, meat-free burger brand Impossible has created a strong, offbeat and memorable personality. For example, it has enlisted the Wu-Tang Clan to create a ‘Wu-Tang in space!’ film advertising its product whilst reminding us of the product’s impeccable green credentials. This message is reinforced with a non-stop stream of witty, yet purposeful, posts on its feeds. Impossible is growing its fan base fast.

Demand outstripping supply: a good problem to have

Both companies have the killer combination of a great product and an entertaining brand. As a result neither is able to keep up with rapidly growing demand. Both brands are in a sector that’s traditionally been a very hard sell to the wider public yet they are extending their reach using strategies perfected by the fast food giants. They amuse, persuade, disarm and entertain a sceptical public into liking their brand and trying their product.

So, in some cases, it seems fast food is starting to take things slower while health food brands pick up the pace. Weirdly, if the current trend continues, it’s entirely feasible that one day Impossible burgers and Oatly-based lattes could be sold in McDonald’s. And there’s something quietly pleasing about that.

To see more of our work in the FMCG, food, retail, health and wellness sectors, click here for case studies on how we’ve helped The Co-op, Atkins, Midcounties Co-op, Wagamama and many more.

Alternatively, if you’d like to learn more, give us a call on 0161 831 0831 and ask for Steph or get in touch at hello@dinosaur.co.uk.

Originally published at Dinosaur.