Upfront 2004 – The Advertisers: Fast Food

Media spending should be hot and heavy for the duration of the year as the nation’s top fast feeders continue to try and reinvent themselves. Not coincidentally the three largest burger chains in the world also happen to be three of the biggest media spenders. McDonald’s was the second largest media spender across all categories in 2003, weighing in at $547 million, per TNS/CMR. As the chain continues to try and make consumers love its “I’m Lovin’ it” campaign, it will continue to dominate the airwaves with new product news and major sponsorships.

The Golden Arches had a golden sales resurgence last year thanks to new items like its premium salads, McGriddles and other items. This year it is focusing on its all white-meat Chicken McNuggets and other new items. This summer it is expected to nationally launch chicken breast strips named Big Dippers. It is also testing a flat bread deli sandwich. Partnerships with the Olympic games, which it extended through 2012, and ESPN’s 25th anniversary will receive the spotlight this summer as well. A new french fries-focused campaign from DDB, Chicago, is currently airing with new Big Mac ads from Leo Burnett, Chicago, on their way as well.

Burger King has seen sales spiral into the abyss. Robert Nilsen resigned as president after 13 months on the job. And its game of ad agency musical chairs continues. In January it dropped Young & Rubicam, New York, after less than a year for Miami-based Crispin Porter + Bogusky (its fifth agency in four years). No wonder then, that despite being the 13th largest spender in media with $270 million, BK has struggled with its brand message. To help set consumers straight, it dusted off its old tagline, “Have it your way,” and released an ad onslaught to drive the familiar slogan home. Recently it looked to its new TenderCrisp Chicken, a permanent addition na-tionwide, to draw interest. Another coming push will be behind its fire-grilled entrée salads. Its Angus beef steak burger is on the way as well. On the kids front, there’s a lot of noise about its tie-in with the much-anticipated Shrek 2.

Wendy’s, which spent the 10th-most dollars on media with a $297 million budget, is also looking for a new voice, which is something it has been struggling with since founder Dave Thomas passed away. Its latest choice is Mr. Wendy, who is called the chain’s “unofficial spokesman.”

The largest fast food franchise in the world, Subway, also recently scrapped its new ad campaign. Consumers didn’t get its tongue-in-cheek “It’s OK, I had Subway” campaign, via Fallon, Minneapolis. It hopes its new round of “Split screen” ads will fair better. Subway spent $248 million on media last year.

Pizza Hut had one of the more successful new product rollouts this year. Its “4forAll” square pizzas launched with much fanfare during the Super Bowl with ads featuring Jessica Simpson and the Muppets. The Yum! Brands-owned chain spent $171 million on media last year. BBDO, New York, handles.—Kenneth Hein

Kenneth Hein is a senior editor for Brandweek.


Consumers will be hard-pressed to find an edible or drinkable product category that hasn’t been altered by the fad-diet tidal wave. One channel that has been affected the most has been the fast-food chains and restaurants. Eateries have been scrambling to provide new options that will keep health-conscience consumers from going elsewhere.

McDonald’s, for example, will discontinue its Super Size fries option by year’s end. This change comes as it has been pushing its “healthy lifestyle initiative.” Other alterations: bagels are now only an optional breakfast item, its 14-oz. yogurt parfait has been cut in half, 2 percent milk was eschewed in favor of 1 percent, and so on.

Forget “where’s the beef?” Where’s the bun? Burger King, Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. introed low-carb burgers wrapped in lettuce instead of buns.

Subway is heavily touting its Atkins-friendly menu, which includes its low-carb wraps as well as its custom-made Garden Fresh salads. Competitor Blimpie’s countered with its Carb Counter menu, which features Atkins Nutritionals’ Cruncher Chips and sandwiches served on low-carb breads.

The trend is so far-reaching that Chipotle Mexican Grill’s Burrito Bowl ditched the tortilla bowl as well as rice and beans. Chick-fil-A is testing a grilled chicken on a low-carb bun. And, T .G.I. Friday’s offers salads without croutons, dips without chips and broccoli in place of french fries.—K.H.