Fast food advertising

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Fast food advertising is the promotion of fast food products and ventures through a variety of media.

Along with automobiles, insurance, retail outlets, and consumer electronics, fast food is among the most heavily advertised sectors of the United States economy, spending over 4.6 billion dollars on advertising in 2012.[1] A 2013 Ad Age compilation of the 25 largest U.S. advertisers ranked McDonald's as the fourth-largest advertiser (spending US$957,000,000 on measurable advertisements in 2012) and Subway as the nineteenth largest (US$516,000,000).[2]

Campaign intentions[edit]

Fast food advertising campaigns have changed their intent over time. After hearing years of criticism of a fast food diet's harmful effects, many modern campaigns stress the availability of healthy options. The rise in awareness of healthy eating and obesity has decreased the business of these establishments, and their marketing campaigns attempt to rectify this.[3]

Target audience[edit]

Fast food restaurants often aim some of their advertising directly at children and students[original research?]. McDonald's Happy Meals, which include a toy often tied in with a newly released family film, are one example of this. Ronald McDonald, a clown-like advertising mascot introduced in 1963 and designed to appeal to young children, is another. Additionally, from 1996 to 2006, Disney was an exclusive partner with McDonald's, linking their products together. They announced the end of this deal in May 2006, with some reports saying that Disney was worried about childhood obesity.[4][5] McDonald's has since been in talks with rival animation studios.[6]

Other chains, such as Carl's Jr. and Burger King (see Burger King advertising), have directed advertising towards a different demographic – young teenage and college-age men – with trendy, often sexualized, imagery and messages that target men's supposed desire for large, meat-filled burgers and rich, satisfying food. For example, in 2005, Carl's Jr. debuted a controversial ad featuring a bikini-clad Paris Hilton writhing sensuously on an expensive Bentley luxury car while enjoying a large burger. The ad provoked outrage from a number of groups, but Carl's Jr. sales climbed impressively.[7]

Methods of advertising[edit]

Neighbouring fast food restaurant advertisement signs in Bowling Green, Kentucky

Common methods of advertising include:

In February 2005, McDonald's used a viral marketing campaign during Super Bowl XXXIX - the Lincoln Fry. Two Pizza Hut marketing ploys have involved spaceflight. In 2001, they were the first to deliver pizzas to outer space when their vacuum-sealed food arrived at the International Space Station.[8] A year earlier, they made a deal to have a 30-foot Pizza Hut logo placed on the side of an unmanned rocket.[9]

According to research done by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, fast food industries spent $4.2 billion in 2009 advertising through media. The report also showed adolescents and teens were increasingly exposed to television ads in recent years. They reported a 21% increase for preschoolers, 34% increase for children, and 39% increase for teens since 2003. While fast food advertising has made an attempt to promote healthy food choices for children, less than 40% of the ads children view are actually promoting kids meals.[10]

The most recent form of fast food advertising that is still in early stages of development is advertising through smart phone devices. Several restaurants have created applications that allow customers to make online orders through their smart phones.[11]

Regulation and criticism[edit]

One of the main areas where fast food companies face regulation is the advertising of "junk food" to children. In the United Kingdom, the Children's Food Bill is intended to highly regulate the advertising of such food aimed at children.[12] Many other countries are looking to introduce strict limitations on fast food advertising as well. Negotiations between the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and fast food companies were initiated in a collective effort to improve children's diets, though Burger King withdrew from the discussions.[13]

Some organizations have called for the watershed to apply to various unhealthy foods, including fast foods. In June 2006, the FSA called for laws preventing such food from being advertised on television before 9pm. They also called for the disassociation of television and film characters from fast food and stopping celebrities from appearing in such advertisements.[14] The effect of these campaigns is often denied by the fast food companies and the television networks that carry their advertisements.[15] Some networks have also claimed that tighter regulations would reduce advertising income and that would reduce the quality of children's programming.[16] In Sweden, all advertising aimed at the under-12s is banned, including fast food adverts.

Faced with stricter TV, radio and print regulation, many fast food companies have started making use of Internet advertising to reach their customers.[17]

The accuracy of the images of food used by the fast food companies is regularly called into question. The actual product is often accused of being poorer quality than what is represented in the image, as was highlighted in's Ads vs. Reality project.[18]

On June 3, 2004 KFC withdrew American television commercials claiming that "fried chicken can, in fact, be part of a healthy diet" after reaching a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.[19]

Advertising authorities regularly receive complaints about fast food advertisements, with members of the public usually claiming that the wording is misleading. Not every complaint is upheld. Between September 11, 2002 and March 24, 2004 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK investigated complaints about six McDonald's advertisements, with only two of them being upheld. The ASA used one of the upheld complaints as a case study.[20]

In 2006 the European Union passed a new law regarding the labeling of foods - any food with a nutritional claim (such as "low fat") must also highlight that it is high in something else (such as "high salt") if that is the case. While fast food is often not given a traditional label, this may affect advertising.[21]

In November 2006, the Office of Communications (Ofcom) announced that it would ban television advertisements for junk food before, during, and after television programming aimed at under-16s in the United Kingdom.[22] These regulations were originally outlined in a proposal earlier in the year.[23] This move has been criticized on both ends of the scale; while the Food and Drink Federation labelled the ban "over the top", others have said the restrictions do not go far enough (particularly because soap operas would be exempt from the ban).[24] On 1 April 2007, junk food advertisements were banned from programs aimed at four to nine-year-olds.[25] Such advertisements broadcast during programs "aimed at, or which would appeal to," ten- to fifteen-year-olds will continue to be phased out over the coming months,[26] with a full ban coming into effect on January 1, 2009.[25]



Several international fast food companies have sponsored sporting events, teams and leagues. McDonald's is one of the largest sponsors, having affiliations with the NHL, Olympic Games, and the FIFA World Cup.[27] Several companies, including McDonald's, Burger King and Pizza Hut, have a history of sponsoring NASCAR teams.


Some fast food companies sponsor television programs. Domino's Pizza have sponsored Sky One's screenings of The Simpsons in the UK for many years (But reported because of new regulation on advertising that the deal may end). In 2005 Pizza Hut sponsored the same program when it was shown on Channel 4 – the Sky/Domino's deal continued.

Fast food companies were major sponsors of the Saturday morning cartoons in the United States, where they advertised their children's meals.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fast Food Marketing Ranking Tables 2012-2013. Yale. Retrieved January 25, 2014.
  2. ^ Meet America's 25 biggest advertisers. AdAge. Retrieved July 8, 2013.
  3. ^ Choueka, Elliott (2005-07-08). "Big Mac fights back". BBC News. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  4. ^ "Disney and McDonald's deal ended". Norwich Union. 2005-05-10. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  5. ^ Noe, Eric (2006-05-08). "Did Childhood-Obesity Worries Kill Disney-McDonald's Pact?". ABC News. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  6. ^ "Report: McDonald's may work with other studios after Disney". CNN Money. 2005-07-06. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  7. ^ Hein, Kenneth (2005-04-25). "Paris Ad for Carl's Jr. Too Hot for TV". Adweek. Archived from the original on 2006-10-05. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  8. ^ "Pizza Hut Celebrates Successful Delivery to Space". 2001-05-22. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  9. ^ "Pizza Hut Puts Pie in the Sky with Rocket Logo". 1999-09-30. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  10. ^ "Fast Food FACTS Report" (PDF). Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. 2010-12-03. Retrieved 2012-03-30. 
  11. ^ Tice, Carol. How Restaurants Are Using Technology to Deliver Better Customer Service. Forbes. December 27, 2012. Retrieved January 25, 2014.
  12. ^ "Children's Food Bill". British House of Commons. 2004-05-18. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  13. ^ Leake, Jonathan (2005-10-09). "Burger King opts out of health food drive". London: The Sunday Times. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  14. ^ Derbyshire, David (2006-06-15). "Ban all junk food ads before 9pm, says watchdog". Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  15. ^ Kedgley, Sue (2003-03-06). "TVNZ's defence of fast-food advertising leaves foul taste". Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  16. ^ Simmonds, Malcolm (March 2006). "The Growth of Obesity". Alternative HealthZine. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  17. ^ Bobbie Johnson; Owen Gibson (2006-03-27). "Internet used to push fast food to children, say campaigners". Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  18. ^ - Ads vs. Reality project by Dario D. -- (dead link, domain for sale as of 27 June 2016)
  19. ^ Bergren, Scott (2004-06-03). "KFC Responds to FTC Resolution of Advertising Inquiry". Archived from the original on 2006-10-31. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  20. ^ "End of story for one fast food ad". Advertising Standards Authority. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  21. ^ "Tight controls on food labelling". BBC News. 2006-05-16. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  22. ^ "Junk food ad crackdown announced". BBC News. 2006-11-17. Retrieved 2006-11-17. 
  23. ^ "Junk food ads to be banned from kids' TV". Daily Mail. 2006-03-27. Retrieved 2006-11-17. 
  24. ^ "Reactions in quotes: ad ban". BBC News. 2006-11-17. Retrieved 2006-11-17. 
  25. ^ a b "Junk food ad ban comes into force". BBC News. 2007-04-01. Retrieved 2007-04-02. 
  26. ^ "Junk food ad ban plans laid out". BBC News. 2007-02-22. Retrieved 2007-04-02. 
  27. ^ "McDonald's :: About Us :: Sports Sponsorships". McDonald's Canada. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 

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