The quick service restaurant industry, otherwise known as fast food to the rest of us, has always been a jumble of lost brands, often competing on the same ideas: Fun, big taste and price. That is the reason why McDonald’s continues to dominate because, when everybody says the same thing, consumers generally default to the market leader.
It’s also why some brands are falling by the wayside, such as A&W and Long John Silver’s, which are up for sale by its owner, Yum! Brands.
As I told the Louisville Courier-Journal last week, the only differentiation with brands such as these are simple things like A&W serving root beer that don’t make a difference in the market. They are not reasons why consumers choose.
It’s with that in mind that my prediction of two news items in the QSR market will not make an ounce of difference. A lawsuit has been filed against Taco Bell claiming the chain falsely advertises that its food is make with ground beef, when – as the suit claims – only about 35% of it is made with ground beef.
No doubt competitors are readying marketing campaigns around using “real” ground beef. Like that will make a difference. Consumers of fast food are not buying based on ingredients or even the perceived health of those ingredients, but simply on an acquired taste and any brand equity Taco Bell has as well. The simple fact is the suit – and any attempt by the competition to capitalize – is that Taco Bell’s consumers won’t care.
Meanwhile, McDonalds, which has owned “fun” for decades even as others try to take it from them, will be raising prices as the cost of ingredients rise.
Again, competitors will no doubt be ready to pounce by marketing their lower prices. Again, it won’t make a difference in the market. Consumers of fast food don’t buy on price because they already see the category as cheap. They buy based on habit, convenience and – like any consumer – emotional preference. For years, McDonalds has held all those triggers as the market leader.
To all those competitors sensing an opportunity to take market share from McDonald’s and Taco Bell, let me tell you. It won’t work. The only thing that will work is if you find other emotional triggers you can own that no one else in the market does.
Otherwise, you may find yourself cutting back on “real” ingredients, wasting more marketing dollars and raising your prices too.