In a sign of the tough times, Americans — trading down in their restaurant choices or indulging in comfort food — had more memorable encounters with new fast-food products than any other category this year.
QSR entries filled five of the top 10 slots in 2009’s Most Memorable New Product Launch Survey, which was conducted by Schneider Associates, IRI and Sentient Decision Science. The results were based on an online October poll of 1,125 consumers age 18 and over. For the last two years, technology products dominated the list.
The times seem to have hurt Americans’ memories as well. Worried about jobs, pay cuts and keeping their homes, the survey found that a whopping 93 percent of respondents — the highest level in eight years of the survey — could not name one new product launch from a list of 50.
That happened despite a doubling up of media: Some 66 percent said they watch TV and surf the Web simultaneously — with 85 percent of those online while watching TV, searching for something they just saw on the air.
That combination worked for Yum! Brands’ KFC — which made its biggest product launch ever with Grilled Chicken — and McDonald’s, backing its gourmet-espresso-based McCafe beverages with one of the largest marketing pushes since the ’70s, when it introduced breakfast offerings.
Both made the list, with KFC Grilled Chicken at No.1 and McCafe following in second place. The survey’s most memorable launch began with near disaster, after KFC locations couldn’t keep up with demand after Oprah offered free coupons to viewers of her eponymous show. That free publicity jump-started a massive campaign using traditional media, promotions and social initiatives on Twitter and MySpace.
“Oprah was catalytic. But what made this launch different was that it was just one part of a fully integrated campaign,” said Javier Benito, evp, marketing and food innovation, KFC. “The other part of it is that QSRs have a hard time in finding a product that is healthy and tastes great. With KFC Grilled Chicken, we hit the sweet spot.”
Benito said that 65 million Americans have tried the product since April, with KFC now commanding a 25 percent share of the fast-growing grilled chicken category. Its success underscored another survey finding: In trying new products, 69 percent said they were influenced by the absence of trans fats; 42 percent, high-fructose corn syrup; and 42 percent, low-salt content.
In addition to McCafe, McDonald’s introduced another premium offering, the Angus Deluxe burger, which placed seventh in the survey. “These had been tested one-and-a-half years before introduction, and while the launch timing was tough, we firmly believed we could continue to offer everyday affordability, even with premium products,” said Heather Oldani, a McDonald’s rep.
Said Julie Hall, evp, Schneider Associates: “Every marketer who’s looking to survive in this economy has got to cast their net wide. You’re not just romancing your core customer, you’re looking at everyone else’s. We saw this in a lot of new product launches this year.”
The survey found that 92 percent of consumers find free samples the most influential source of information about new products. Before McCafe’s May launch, McDonald’s generated buzz by sponsoring Fashion Week in New York by giving away samples — and it also did so post-launch in September. Before the official Angus launch, the company introduced a promotion in certain markets where consumers were offered a free burger for their dinner as well as reimbursement for the cost of their commutes home.
Other QSR launches in the survey’s top 10: Quiznos Torpedo sandwich at No. 6 and Taco Bell Volcano Nachos at No. 8.
In the eight years the survey has been conducted, new Coca-Cola products have been the most memorable launches. In the first polling in 2002, Vanilla Coke topped the list; in 2004, Coca Cola C2 was in the top spot; in 2005, Coke with Lime and Coke Zero were in the top two slots; and in 2007, Diet Coke Plus ranked No. 7.
In contrast, Pepsi only rated two mentions: In 2002, Pepsi Blue was the third most memorable launch; and in 2004, Pepsi Edge placed second.