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Which chains spend the most on social media ads?

A well-known coffee brand has dominated people's feeds recently, according to new research from BrandTotal.
Starbucks cup
Photograph: Shutterstock

Starbucks may be the No. 2 U.S. restaurant chain, but it is leading the way in at least one department: social media advertising.

In the past three months, the coffee giant generated the most impressions with paid posts across Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn. It accounted for 12% of all impressions, followed by Wendy's (10%), Arby's (8%), Taco Bell (8%) and Chipotle (7%). Impressions measure the number of times a post appeared in someone's feed.

That's according to new research from brand analytics company BrandTotal, which analyzed paid social campaigns from the 25 leading quick-service brands between Aug. 19 and Nov. 15—a total of 4,800 campaigns.

Of course, anyone can pay to have their brand pop up in people's feeds. But Starbucks also dominated in the engagement category, suggesting that its targeting and creative enticed customers to click, said BrandTotal CEO Alon Leibovich.

The chain's paid posts yielded 1.6 million interactions during the time period being measured. Arby's came in a distant second with 698,000, followed by Domino's (585,000), Wendy's (498,000) and McDonald's (280,000).

A bulk of all ads analyzed were targeted at younger customers. Nearly 60% were aimed at Gen Z (ages 18-24), while 33% targeted the 25-44 age group. Just 8% was geared toward people older than that.

A pair of chicken chains—Zaxby's and KFC—were the most aggressive in trying to reach the Gen Z cohort, with three-quarters of their impressions targeted at that generation. Meanwhile, sister burger chains Hardee's and Carl's Jr. were the least concerned with Gen Z: Just 2% and 13% of their impressions, respectively, were devoted to the age group. Instead, they focused on millennials and Gen X.

Twitter was the QSRs' preferred advertising platform. Nearly 40% of all ad impressions came from Twitter, followed by YouTube (33%), Facebook (15%) and Instagram (13%).

Gen Z-focused brands favored YouTube, while those going after older customers took to Facebook, BrandTotal found.

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