Fast Food Marketing Tips and Tricks You Need to Know

Learn about fast food advertising from the marketing strategies and iconic ads of the giants of the fast-food industry.

Marketing design
November 23, 2020

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Learn about fast food advertising from the marketing strategies and iconic ads from giants in the fast food industry.

Small quick service restaurants are put in the position to completely change the way they function. Staying alive in the fast food industry is not easy, especially because unhealthy food is avoided progressively, the Covid-19 pandemic is changing the way we eat out and pick up food, and, unsurprisingly, huge fast food restaurant brands are much more resilient to the crisis than small businesses owners.

However, there are things that can help you keep your fast food company afloat, with good marketing and a lot of pivoting.


Genius placement of billboard signs

This might not be that new of a trick, since it’s known to be one of the first growth hacks in marketing history. Placing a billboard with a juicy meal at the exit of a highway, or nearby a petrol station proves to be a strategy that McDonald’s uses for a very long time. Assuming that people are stuck in their car for a long time and hungry and in need of a break, letting them know that you’re always open and easily accessible is a gamechanger.

Toni Marino

Collectibles for children

This is another marketing strategy that we have McDonald’s to thank for. Reaching a demographic known to have a very limited palate isn’t easy, and for a restaurant to be appealing to 8 year-olds is almost impossible. But, getting collectible action figures with kids’ meals was all the hype back in the 90s, and I’m sure today’s youth can also agree. Children’s food tastes better when you get a toy with it!

Limited offers

Limiting menu items for a certain time period or offering limited offers to encourage loyal customers to get a package deal is a well-proven strategy. It’s a simple psychological reaction: you offer exclusivity, elusiveness and induce the fear of missing out, and people want to buy something.

A great example of how popular a limited offer can be is the comeback of the McDonald’s Szechuan teriyaki dipping sauce. It was a limited menu item when the Disney film “Mulan” was released in 1998, and it came with Mulan toy (one out of a set of eight). Fast-forward to 2017, the pop-culture phenomenon “Rick and Morty” releases an episode where one of the titular characters goes back in time in his memory to once again experience the epic Szechuan sauce. The smart marketing executives at McDonald’s re-released a limited time offer of the sauce, which sold out in less than a day.

Good use of color

Notice how all fast food chains seem to use the same colors in their branding and logo design? Burger King to McDonald’s, Pizza Hut to Domino’s, KFC to Del Taco… all these huge players in the United States use the color red for their fast food logo. Why you might ask? It awakens appetite and encourages food consumption.

Red evokes a sense of urgency, and also our ancestors knew that fruits that are red are ripe. Millenia later, we know that it means good junk food. Close enough, right?

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Monthly Brands

Loyalty and reward programs

One more way to encourage customers to come back is to offer them a loyalty and reward program. Be it stamps that mark their visit and on the 10th you offer a free meal or a point-collection system, or a priority to try a limited offer on a new product, people enjoy being rewarded. Of course, the value of the product should correspond with what they’re spending to get it, so no person is at a huge loss.

Social media and digital marketing

In recent years, many big brands have turned to social media for direct, non-filtered, and often transparent communication with customers. Be it a behind-the-scenes post of how the products are made, great food photography, or just saying the right thing at the right time, Twitter, Instagram and other social networks can help your brand be out there.

One of the most epic examples of this is Wendy’s, a fast food chain whose marketers aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and roast some competition and fans.

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Of course, the world doesn’t work the same way for small businesses. But sometimes, social media can help a small food truck become a mega-popular spot for foodies. Kogi in LA is a food truck run by chef Roy Choi, who became the inspiration for the film “Chef”. As an intern in a Michelin star restaurant, Choy decided to travel from town to town, and make simple tacos and sandwiches. People posted about it on Twitter so much that a few days later there were lines in front of the truck.

Give back to the community

The food, beverage and restaurant companies spend almost $14 billion per year on advertising in the United States, according to the Rudd Center 2017 analysis of Nielsen data. More than 80% of it promotes fast food, sugary drinks, candy, and unhealthy snacks. Food advertising in comparison dwarfs the entire $1 billion budget for all chronic disease prevention and health promotion in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In a time when obesity and even childhood obesity is one of the most serious issues for public health, the least that a fast food restaurant can do is invest back into research for better food policy, offer the true values of its food’s nutritional quality, and offer alternative dietary and food options.

Big fast food companies already have healthy alternatives, vegan food and other solutions for discouraging customers from unhealthy products. Still, the comfort-food feeling that junk food offers remains the cornerstone of this industry.

Change according to the trends

As we already mentioned, newer generations tend to eat more sustainably, ethically and oftentimes, this means vegan and organic. There are plenty of articles such as “Millennial eating habits are killing the fast food industry”. Furthermore, research shows that 35% of millennials eat fast food less than once a week and 26% don't eat fast food at all. Millennials' decisions to eat less fast food could be linked to both changing food preferences and increased awareness of healthy eating.

In order to get to this target group, as a fast food restaurant, you need to offer a healthy, organic, vegan alternative, as well as work on your word of mouth references and social media buzz.

A great, but not a huge menu

One more thing that is important: know what you are good at, and let your menu consist of it. There are a lot of restaurants that offer hundreds of meals, but essentially, they are all the same thing in a different format. Keep your fast food menu smaller, but perfect: everything on it should be good.

If you can afford it and still be efficient, offer a deal where your customers can build their own meal with different toppings and extras, like the Subway deal where you make your own sub. It will make people feel like they are in control of their meal, and give them exactly what they crave.


Last, but not least, is that you should be mobile. At the peak of the Covid-19 crisis, many businesses struggle to stay alive. There are many options for delivery, whether it’s your own delivery, Uber Eats, local delivery services, and many other things. Make sure your food is available for pickup and delivery, otherwise you risk losing customers who are staying at home and possibly being closed for a second lockdown.

Journalist turned content writer. Based in North Macedonia, aiming to be a digital nomad. Always loved to write, and found my perfect job writing about graphic design, art and creativity. A self-proclaimed film connoisseur, cook and nerd in disguise.

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