Fast food is probably one of the biggest culprits that have led to obesity in our country. Granted, everyone is at their own discretion whether they want to indulge in the high saturated fat, sodium, and sugary meals, but these companies make it so convenient to grab a meal and go. Not to mention, the lower pricing for meals compared to a night out with the family. But what you probably don’t realize, is that they’ve put these ideas into you and your kids heads on a daily basis. They essentially signal to your brain, “Buy our product! It’s a delicious, cheap, hot meal that everyone will love!” So what are the avenues in which they’re reaching out to you and your family? With the largely expanded world of technology, it’s only made it easier for them to grasp onto your taste buds. Fast food companies now use social media in addition to ads on TV to throw their brand at you. This blog entry will inspect these strategies, and bring them to light so you’re more aware of the ads!
Children are targeted the most in marketing strategies. Why? Well because they’re so impressionable of course! Fast Food Marketing states: “On average, U.S. preschoolers viewed 2.8 fast food ads on TV every day in 2012, children (6-11 years) viewed 3.2 ads per day, and teens viewed 4.8 ads per day.” Kids as young as preschoolers are a target for companies like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, KFC, you name it. Kids see these ads throughout the day, and it makes them want this food for dinner. Now, I don’t have kids, but I know how easy it is for me to give in and just get fast food when I don’t feel like cooking. I can’t even imagine if I had a whole family to cook for! This is what these brands are hoping for, and they often get what they want. They lure you in with all these new “healthy items” that they now offer, but that’s a façade too!
With all the healthy options of getting fruit instead of fries and milk instead of soda, kid's meals still surpass the daily recommended amounts sodium, sugar, fat, and calories. Fast Food Marketing stated: “In 2010, less than 1% of all kids’ meal combinations met recommended nutrition standards.” In other words, almost none of their meals are within the limits of what our children should be eating. When I was growing up, we never had these choices when we ate fast food. It was always fries, chicken nuggets or a burger, and a soda. Now kids can atleast opt out of the fries or soda, so in that respect, we’re doing something right. A study reported in Fast Food Marketing showed some positive results: “In Quebec, advertising targeted to children under age 13 is banned. As a result, researchers estimate that fast food visits by French Canadian households have been reduced by 13% per week and these households consume 5.6 to 7.8 billion fewer fast food calories per year.” You think that maybe if we practiced this same idea, we would see a change in the consumption of fast food? It’s possible, but it’s most likely not going to happen, unfortunately. All these fast food companies have too much riding on their success to want to make a change like this.
In addition to offering healthier options to kids, fast food restaurants now have social media accounts. This allows them to reach out to their customers in more ways than one. Companies like Burger King, Wendy’s, and McDonald’s all have computer games, apps, Facebook, Twitter, etc. It’s amazing how much this world now depends on social media, and of course fast food chains are going to jump on board. “Fast food restaurants placed six billion display ads on Facebook in 2012, 19% of all their online display advertising” (Fast Food Marketing). Just to give you a small idea on how much of an impact these companies can have. You don’t even realize you’re seeing these ads on facebook or twitter, they’re often on the side but your brain still picks these things up subliminally. Not only are they plugging ads into your computer or websites, most have apps too! Companies like Pizza Hut and Papa John’s both have apps that make it easier for delivery. This is another way of reaching out to customers and making ordering food that much more convenient. I will admit I have the Dunkin Donuts App. I can assure you that if I didn’t have that app, I wouldn’t go there for my coffee nearly as much as I do now. So it certainly works!
Going backwards a little bit, before the days of apps, Facebook pages, and twitter handles, “collectibles” were a HUGE way to get customers always coming back. The first thing that comes to my mind: Beanie Babies. When I was a kid, I remember going to McDonald’s probably 2-3 times per WEEK! Just to see what kind of beanie baby I would get in my happy meal because I wanted to collect them all. This was another tactic to have customers always returning and ordering food; just to get that toy in the happy meal. It’s slightly less prevalent now than it was about a decade ago, but they certainly still use that avenue to bring more customers in.
Aside from collectibles, loyalty programs were and still are popular for fast food chains. If you looked in your wallet right now, how many restaurant rewards or "point" cards would you have? I can tell you, I'm guilty of having atleast 5 or more! Companies offering these cards allow you to build up points, and eventually when you spend enough money, they give you something for free. A LOT of companies jumped on this bandwagon, including movie theatres, grocery stores, and retail stores. When you get a loyalty card and then get that free burrito or $5 off your purchase, it always somehow seems worth it, right? Well then that means these cards work the way they’re supposed to. This is just another way for fast food companies or even “fast-casual” restaurants can get you to come back. You’ll think of them when you’re trying to figure out where to go to eat instead of a place you’ve never been to because there’s an incentive.
Fast food marketing strategies are ingenious when you think about it. Next time you’re on Facebook or your child is playing a Burger King game, pay attention to those ads you might be subliminally seeing. Or when you think to go to Panera because you have a loyalty card, think about why you decided on that restaurant. Children are certainly one of the most targeted age groups, so be more mindful of what your kids are watching, playing, or seeing on social media. Fast food companies have certainly made an effort to offer healthier options in their menu, but it doesn’t mean the whole meal is healthy. While it helps to have apples in place of fries, they’re still eating those chicken nuggets. The purpose of this blog was not to warn you about eating at fast food restaurants, but to make you more aware of how they reach out to you. They’re embedded in your life probably more than you might think. Just be more cautious of the frequency of eating out, as eating at home is always going to be a healthier and cheaper option. You know what foods you’re eating and where it came from.