Stay-at-home orders went into effect in mid-March, leading fast food chains to close their dining rooms indefinitely. This boosted drive-through revenue to $8.3 billion across the fast-food industry in March, a slight but mighty increase from $8 billion over the same period in 2019.
The shift to drive-through-only and a bigger dependence on delivery have been the fast food industry’s lifeline over the last few months. Americans quickly traded the dine-in experience for the safety of their cars, and your fast food favorites have taken notice. Three fast casual restaurants in particular invested in ad campaigns influenced by the pandemic and social distancing: McDonald’s, Chick-Fil-A, and Burger King.
McDonald’s continues to McDeliver through social distancing orders
McDonald’s has increased its desktop video ad spend by 28% ($2.3M to $2.9M) since stay-at-home orders went into effect on March 16. And from early May and early June, the brand has spent nearly $3M on desktop video, with the highest estimated daily spend during the third week of May.
On May 22, McDonald’s spent $250K on desktop video alone: that’s the largest daily spend on desktop video creatives this year. Pathmatics found these videos across sites including MyRecipes, SouthernLiving, and YouTube. In fact, McDonald’s spent $122K on YouTube pre-roll ads on this day.
Focused on messaging around “McDelivery” and “we will get through this,” the video ads highlight social distancing orders, noting that even though “a lot has changed,” McDonald's is still delivering.
Top Facebook creatives included a focus on supporting first responders and healthcare workers. In May, McDonald’s also promoted a thank you campaign for healthcare workers. One ad states, “To our First Responders and Healthcare Workers, it’s been an honor to serve you. Thank you.”
Another video promotes free meals for first responders and healthcare workers, with copy stating, “We’re proud to have been a part of your lives, and now proud to serve you a free meal as a small token of our appreciation.”
Desktop video proved to be a popular advertising method during the pandemic, as Chick-Fil-A also centered its contactless payment through video.
Chick-fil-A keeps it safe and contactless
From early May to early June, Chick-fil-A focused on “contactless” drive-through and delivery options for customers. In fact, the company spent $126K on three desktop videos that highlighted curbside pick up and contactless payments. The 15-second videos were placed on Hulu and Fox, with Chick-fil-A investing $122K on Hulu alone.
The video campaign titled #thelittlethings noted that it was the company’s pleasure to provide such options. This word choice is in line with the company's mandate for employees to tell customers "my pleasure" in lieu of the typical "you're welcome" — a customer service tactic that Chick-fil-A is well known for.
Per Pathmatics Explorer, Chick-fil-A promoted over 100 Facebook ads between early May and early June, highlighting its delivery options, signifying its commitment to social distancing orders. The company spent over $500K on these Facebook ads, which is nearly two times more than it spent on Facebook ads in the previous month.
The Burger King will keep you safe
Similar to Chick-fil-A, Burger King also launched a new campaign focused on customer safety.
Facebook ($268K) dominated Burger King’s digital ad strategy from early May to early June with 69% of spend share allocated toward the social channel. The company’s top Facebook creatives showed a commitment to employee and customer safety as restaurants begin to reopen. One ad’s copy stated, “We’re ready when you are. As we reopen our restaurants to serve you all your BK favorites your way, we’re taking plenty of steps to help keep you safe.”
Embedded within the Facebook ad was a 10-second video that showed precautions Burger King is taking as they reopen. The company specifically showed how BK employees will handle orders from window to car with trays to keep contactless delivery methods intact.
BK targeted Miami residents more than any other region in the country on Facebook from early May to early June, spending 16% of its budget on the platform targeted toward Miamians. In April, it only spent 2% of its budget in Miami, spending 13% of its budget targeting New York residents. This increase in spending could signify Burger King’s focus on the state as it lifted stay-at-home orders in mid-May, including opening up beaches in Miami-Dade county.
As restaurants begin to reopen, many Americans are unsure about venturing back into a brick-and-mortar dining experience. This explains why fast food brands such as McDonalds, Chick-fil-A, and Burger King are heavily advertising drive-through, contactless delivery and payment, and safety precautions for employees and workers alike.
The pandemic forced a shift in how Americans dine, and only time will tell when they’ll feel comfortable enough to order a #2 with Sprite in a fast food dining room once again.
Fast food companies aren’t the only ones who’ve had to shift digital ad gears during COVID-19. Check out how meal delivery companies implemented stay-at-home campaigns to feed Americans during the pandemic.
With over a decade of experience across digital marketing, content, creative, and PR, Sarah is a creative and dynamic thinker who loves to delight clients with unique and relatable content. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in Sociology.