Which restaurant chains are winning in holiday advertising?

A new feature of Restaurant Business looks at the week’s most effective TV ads.
tv ad
Photograph: Shutterstock

Ever the rebel, Chick-fil-A ignored the trend toward shorter TV commercials to run a 120-second spot in early December for its equally unusual holiday promo, The Time Shop. The unconventional execution earned the trend-setting chicken chain the top spot in the weekly rating of TV ad effectiveness by EDO, a new partner of Restaurant Business.

EDO monitors every commercial run on network TV and assigns a rating called SEV, or Search Engagement Volume, that’s based on a correlation with a rise in online search activity. The SEV has been modeled to reflect a consumer’s propensity to buy from a brand, be it for takeout, delivery or on-premise dining, in restaurants’ case. The approach enables EDO to provide near-instant assessments of how well a given ad spot worked for a brand, according to Bob Kraut, the former Captain D’s and Papa John’s CMO who now works in that capacity for EDO. 

“Any type of storytelling where you’re making news, where it’s not day in, day out LTO (limited-time offer) advertising, tends to do well,” says Kraut. “It’s not always about worshipping the LTO.”

Chick-fil-A’s spot, run on a non-Sunday during the first week of the holiday-marketing blitz, is a case in point, he says. The ad touts a new service Chick-fil-A is offering on a limited basis in a pitch directed at families. Consumers ages 13 or older can request the chain to send a formal invite to a relation or friend to spend a specified amount of time on a specified activity, such as building a snowman. The underlying idea is that nothing is more precious during the holidays than shared time. 

The ad was the only one among the top five limited-service and top five full-service commercials to run beyond 30 seconds.  

The rankings for each category show a mix of image-type advertising and direct calls to action. While Chick-fil-A’s ad pivoted on warm and fuzzies, KFC and Wendy’s touted specific offers: chicken and waffles and the option of having meals delivered during football games, respectively. 

Olive Garden claimed all five top slots on the effectiveness ranking for full-service brands with a mix of strategic and tactical come-ons. The two top-ranked ads touted the chain’s everyday value, while the No. 3 ad focused on the Darden Restaurants holding’s catering program.

Here are the five most effective restaurant chain ads for limited and full-service brands. Look for an update later this week. 

Top 5 QSR/fast-casual network TV ads

  1. Chick-fil-A The Time Shop :120 - 24.4 SEV
    A Charlie Brown Christmas (ABC), Dec 5, 5.0M impressions
  2. KFC Delicious Union :30 - 23.7 SEV
    Survivor (CBS), Dec 4, 6.9M impressions
  3. Wendy's Game Day Meal Delivered :30 - 16.7 SEV
    Pre-Kick (FOX), Dec 7, 12.5M impressions
  4. Domino's Pizza Right Now 50 Percent Off :15 - 11.3 SEV
    Supernatural (CW), Dec 5, 1.1M impressions
  5. KFC Carolers :15 - 7.9 SEV
    NCIS: New Orleans (CBS), Dec 3, 4.5M impressions


Top 5 casual/midscale network TV ads

  1. Olive Garden 2019 Everyday Value - Italian Generosity :30 - 9.6 SEV
    87th Annual Christmas in Rockefeller Center (NBC), Dec 4, 6.9M impressions
  2. Olive Garden 2019 Everyday Value - Italian Generosity :30 - 9.3 SEV
    87th Annual Christmas in Rockefeller Center (NBC), Dec 4, 6.9M impressions
  3. Olive Garden Brought to You :15 - 6.7 SEV
    How to Train Your Dragon: Homecoming (NBC), Dec 3, 3.9M impressions
  4. Olive Garden Season's Hottest Must Haves :30 - 5.6 SEV
    The Resident (FOX), Dec 3, 4.3M impressions
  5. Olive Garden Season's Hottest Must Haves :15 - 4.1 SEV
    How to Train Your Dragon: Homecoming (NBC), Dec 3, 3.9M impressions

Source: EDO

SEV = Search Engagement Volume, EDO’s proprietary system for ranking TV ad effectiveness. More info is available here

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