5 things fast food brands must do to create effective digital advertising

We used AI to uncover key elements QSR advertisers should keep in mind when creating digital campaigns.
28 July 2022
Fast food digital ad campaigns with Link AI
Tiffany Lever

Regional Head of Client Success, Kantar Marketplace, North America

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Fast food and fast casual restaurants have adopted a variety of creative strategies across digital channels to attempt to meaningfully differentiate their menu and experience with consumers. With so many ads being created and with budgets under constant pressure, it’s more important than ever to test and invest in ads that will make an impact. 

We used Link AI to test a selection of recent fast food ads from both the U.S. and Canada, in the context of Facebook creative. These findings, in combination with Kantar’s extensive experience with ad effectiveness best practices, show how it is essential for restaurant brands to consider the following to increase positive associations with their ads.

What we learned

We uncovered five crucial findings that quick service restaurant (QSR) advertisers should keep in mind when creating digital advertising campaigns. Kantar’s Link AI for Digital measures against the following KPIs: 

QSR metrics for Link AI

Show off your brand 

Across the U.S. and Canada, QSR ads are generally well branded given their strong brand associations, and typically have recognizable cues which serve as mental shortcuts. Within social media, it is important to grab the user’s attention to stop them from scrolling. To address this, branding should be present early on and throughout the ad. Specifically, the first three seconds are the most crucial to stop the scroll given consumers’ control over content viewing on social media. 

With the high interest in this category and the increased role that category interest plays within social and digital environments, early branding is not only important for branded memorability, but also can be used to attract viewership and increase interaction. 

This fast food advertiser used early branding in its social media creative and tested well across all KPIs, measuring above 75 for all metrics.  



Keep ads tasteful

Driven by the universal love of food, we see that ads in the fast food industry are generally more enjoyable and aren't skipped as quickly as other ads. Strong food imagery contributes to heightened interest of creatives and increased consideration for brand.

Conversely, when the food option shown isn’t broadly appealing or plays to a niche audience, then persuasion may be negatively impacted. We observed some enjoyment softening for ads featuring unappetizing consumption scenes. However, we know from neuroscience learnings that consumption-related scenes can activate a mimicry response at a subconscious level when shown tastefully. Mirror neurons are a class of neurons that become active both when individuals perform a specific motor act and when they observe a similar act done by others. There are three stages that could fire this up: 1) anticipation of consumption (food preparation shots), 2) actual consumption, and 3) post satisfaction of consumption.



This is an analysis of an ad that used half-eaten food, people chewing and talking mid-bite, which may be seen as unappetizing by viewers. Notably, it did not score as high as some of the other ads tested across the majority of KPIs. 

QSR advertisers should give extra consideration when showing people consuming the product. The key to showing consumption is showing it intelligently. Avoid showing scenes that could be construed as off-putting, such as half-eaten food, open-mouth chewing, talking while eating or sloppy eating. 

Breaking through the category clutter

Given the consumer love of food, QSR digital ads are more likely to breakthrough than other categories. This raises the bar for what any individual QSR ad should hope to accomplish. High action standards should be expected.



This ad had among the highest impact score for all the ads we tested. Its high score was due to branding occurring early in the ad and continuing throughout, as well as showcasing a variety of different food offerings that were staged to look appetizing and appealing. These attributes can make a QSR ad stand out in today’s saturated market. 

The power of positivity

Ads with positive tones are perceived as better, compared to negative tone ads, which are ranked as less enjoyable and less impactful. When an ad generates positive emotions, it leads to stronger brand affinity and persuasion. Additionally, if the ad makes us smile, it activates the reward center of our brains, making the ad more memorable. 

When doing comparative advertising, creatives should be easy to qualify as good-natured and not mean-spirited, otherwise your ad runs the risk of being perceived as bullying. It is important to ensure that the "big guy" is not seen as picking on the "little guy.” Any comparisons in ads should be built from the foundation of a rational, universally relatable, and substantiated messaging.



This is an example of an ad that used comparative advertising to tell consumers that their product was better than its competitors. While it didn’t name any of its competition directly, the ad did not test as well across most of our metrics compared to other QSR ads.

Get social with novelty

Our brains love novelty. It has a wide range of effects on cognition which can increase motivation and exploratory behavior, making for a more memorable brand experience. Lack of novelty, or new news, on social media can negatively impacted Ad Interaction. 

QSR brands should ensure their online ads are conveying something interesting or highlighting brand benefits, rewards, new features or new offers. This will excite viewers and encourage them to interact with your ads. 



This ad scored highly on all metrics by highlighting an exclusive app feature where consumers can build their own custom meals. The use of product demos such as this has also been a proven technique for maximum creative effectiveness

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