When it comes to cutting through the clutter of restaurant commercials, the most effective brands win by hitting on an impactful theme, rather than just pumping out the most ads, according to new research from Ace Metrix.
The Los Angeles-based marketing research firm released its year-to-date rankings of restaurant commercials with the highest Ace Scores, which Ace Metrix calculates by surveying consumers about advertisements’ persuasiveness and watchable values. Of the top 10 most effective quick-service ads since the beginning of 2011, Subway and Dairy Queen each had four commercials, joined by one spot each from Wendy’s and Baskin-Robbins.
Subway’s humorous commercial featuring people undone by “greasy fast foods” had the category’s highest Ace Score, a 655 out of a possible 950. Wendy’s tied for second with a product-focused spot for its new French fries, while Dairy Queen’s ads in its new “Ri-DQ-lous” campaign landed at Nos. 2, 4, 5 and 7. Baskin-Robbins tied for seventh with a humorous 15-second spot for its ice cream cake.
Ace Metrix also ranked the most effective advertisers in the quick-service space by averaging the Ace Scores for all of a brand’s commercials.
The chains with the most commercials and biggest budgets didn’t necessarily coast to the top spots. Dairy Queen claimed the No. 1 rank, notching an average Ace Score of 618 with seven different commercials run so far in 2011.
Wendy’s and Baskin-Robbins followed as No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, while KFC and Subway tied for fourth place with an average Ace Score of 594. Subway accomplished that ranking with 19 different ads in 2011, promoting either its new breakfast platform or its Fresh Fit options with humorous commercials and spots featuring famous athletes.
McDonald’s, which ran 16 commercials this year, fell just below the quick-service category average of 578 with a 577 average Ace Score, good for 11th place.
Food shots hit the mark
Jack McKee, a vice president at Ace Metrix, said the best-performing quick-service restaurants in the study tended to garner higher marks in their commercials for product desire through food photography.
“What makes these ads effective is that it gets people coming away wanting the product and needing it right now,” McKee said. “Even these humorous ads from Subway and Dairy Queen have high desire scores. The Dairy Queen spot leads in with a funny monologue from the spokesman, but it hits you with a product shot near the end.”
He speculated that McDonald’s many commercials resulted in a middle-of-the-road Ace Score average because several, including ones reintroducing Ronald McDonald, were light on products, whereas spots for Real Fruit Smoothies and McCafe coffees performed better.
McKee thought the Dairy Queen ads, in which a spokesman holds and promotes the Mini Blizzard while encountering over-the-top set pieces like flaming rainbows and bubbles containing kittens, potentially could have a long run like well-known character-based campaigns in other industries.
“They’ve got kind of that Old Spice Guy feel, but I’m also reminded of those auto insurance ads with Flo for Progressive or those Esurance guys,” he said. “This is creating a persona to match the brand for Dairy Queen.”
Dairy Queen’s case study in cool
Michael Keller, Dairy Queen’s chief brand officer, described how the chain developed its latest ad campaign.
Dairy Queen and its agency of record, Grey New York, determined that its $3 billion in annual North American sales while not being the biggest, cheapest or fastest chain in the industry meant something else made the brand great, Keller said. That led to the campaign’s theme of “good just isn’t good enough.”
“We don’t just have soft serve, we turn it into the Blizzard; then we made it smaller, and now we have a triple-chocolate variety coming in July,” Keller said. “It led to the tagline, ‘So good it’s riDQulous.’ … We’re perceived as a brand with a good sense of humor, and we’ve always had permission to be humorous.”
Dairy Queen learned from customer research that the chain’s core guests are overwhelmingly made up of Generation Xers and their young children, so the ads were pitched to their media sensibilities, Keller said.
“We explored the Gen Xers deeply and asked what they find funny and perceive to be relevant,” he said. “It has some absurdity and surreality to it. To get in there, we heavily evoke special effects: These aren’t just rainbows, they’re on fire. That whole build reminds customers that we don’t just have soft serve, we have the Blizzard. And in April, we put it on sale for $1.99. That layering says we just don’t stop at good enough.”
Dairy Queen is in its second straight year of significant national advertising, Keller said. The chain is supplementing the broadcast investment with digital spending, notably ad buys on video-streaming website Hulu.
In keeping with the importance of food photography, Dairy Queen made sure “the product is the hero” in every commercial, even when it’s pitted against a funny spokesman or special effects like kitten-containing bubbles, Keller said.
“We always had terrific food photography, but we went one level further and put the Mini Blizzard on a pedestal that spins and rotates up,” he said. “Our customers told us it was great, so we put it on a pedestal.”