Ace Metrix research shows that TV ads from brands such as Pizza Hut and Ruby Tuesday stood out to consumers
Though it is too soon to know restaurant brands’ second-quarter sales, new information from marketing research firm Ace Metrix shows that the foodservice industry’s performance in TV advertising improved in the latest quarter, with several brands standing out.
Ace Metrix ranks advertisements by their Ace Score, the firm's proprietary measurement of how watchable and persuasive an advertisement is based on surveys of American consumers. Of the 50 commercials during the second quarter with the highest Ace Scores, 18 of the spots came from 12 restaurant brands, said Jonathan Symonds, executive vice president of marketing for Ace Metrix.
“The big number I took away from this research was the preponderance of QSR and casual-dining brands in the top 50 advertisers, which was higher than usual,” Symonds said. “That’s somewhat a function of the economy. Consumers’ optimism is growing ever so slightly, and one way to reflect that is through small luxuries — dining out being one of them.”
Olive Garden and Pizza Hut each had three commercials in the top 50 for the second quarter, while Applebee’s and Dairy Queen had two. Restaurant chains with one ad in the top 50 included Bob Evans, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Friendly’s, Golden Corral, LongHorn Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Ruby Tuesday and Subway.
Pizza Hut scores with the P’zolo
When Pizza Hut introduced its P’zolo sandwich in June, its public-relations team executed an obvious shot across the bow of Subway by giving the item away on two subway cars of Chicago’s mass-transit system in what it called a “Subway Takeover.”
While the item’s TV commercial did not mention Subway by name, its competitive aim at the world’s largest sandwich chain was clear, Symonds said. Pizza Hut garnered an Ace Score of 644 out of 950 with the P’zolo ad.
“This was a direct shot at a competitor, and it was really well done,” Symonds said. “For Pizza Hut, if you’re going to have a new-product introduction, it has to be a good ad, and they succeeded in taking on Subway in that regard. In the [survey responses] for that ad, Subway gets mentioned 3 percent of the time, which is a pretty high number considering that it’s a Pizza Hut ad.”
Importantly, one of the sub-ratings that contribute to the overall Ace Score was very high, Symonds said. The P’zolo ad’s “change score,” which measures whether viewers think the brand is headed in a different direction, was 712, which was far above the industry norm for that metric, he said.
Pizza Hut also advertised its $10 Dinner Box and several other limited-time offers during the quarter and performed consistently well, he added. The chain’s 596 average Ace Score for 16 ads tied the average scores for IHOP and T.G.I. Friday’s, and trailed only nine other brands’ overall performance for the quarter.
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Burger King’s campaign gains traction
Though it did not have any commercials make the top 50, Burger King still achieved the kind of ad effectiveness it sought earlier this year when it introduced a celebrity-filled TV campaign for its new menu, Symonds said.
According to Ace Metrix’s data, Burger King rolled out 14 commercials during the second quarter, essentially matching the advertising spend of its much larger rival, McDonald’s, which had 15 commercials during the quarter. Only Pizza Hut had more ads run during that time, with 16.
In addition to reaching parity with McDonald’s in terms of media weight, Burger King outperformed McDonald’s based on its average Ace Score for all its commercials, which worked out to 573 out of a possible 950, just below the restaurant category norm of 574. By comparison, McDonald’s average Ace Score was 538.
“Burger King is doing what it needs to be doing,” Symonds said. “Clearly they’re driving more awareness than McDonald’s. If you call it a two-person race — which it’s not, but if we’re just looking at McDonald’s versus Burger King — they’re doing all the right things. They just have to convert with their execution on the food side.”
Executives at McDonald’s recently had told securities analysts that the Golden Arches did not fear too much market share erosion from Burger King’s campaign because it would be difficult for Burger King to maintain the pace of media buying it currently is on to build awareness for the new menu.
However, Symonds noted that Burger King had managed to create a diverse mix of 15- and 30-second spots with several celebrities like David Beckham, Steven Tyler, Salma Hayek and Sofia Vergara, and the 15-second spots have Ace Scores just as high as the 30-second spots. "They can buy twice as much media and get twice as many impressions,” he said. “That gives them more flexibility and will allow them to sustain their spend longer.”
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Solid batting average for rest of the industry
Other chains performed very well during the second quarter while creating and buying time for far fewer ads than McDonald’s, Burger King and Pizza Hut, Ace Metrix found.
Perennially consistent advertisers like Dairy Queen, Olive Garden and Applebee’s had the majority of their ads perform at the industry norm or better, he said. Only two of Dairy Queen’s six total ads were below the norm, while all six of Olive Garden’s ads for the quarter were at the norm or above. Applebee’s had only two ads in the quarter, but their scores for both landed in the top quintile for the industry.
Applebee’s, Olive Garden’s and Red Lobster’s average Ace Scores of 641, 622 and 604, respectively, improved sequentially from previous quarters, though the commercials were continuations of previous campaigns, Symonds noted. He speculated that this upward trend could portend more consumer interest in restaurants over the near term.
“We see that reflected in the receptiveness to advertising from restaurants,” Symonds said, “because while there hasn’t been a big shift on the creative front for Olive Garden or Red Lobster, they’re getting incrementally better scores.”
Taco Bell also was a steady performer, as only two of its seven ads for the quarter were below the norm. All four of its commercials advertising the Doritos Locos Tacos were in the top or second quintile for the industry.
“It’s a great product supported by great advertising,” Symonds said, “and that’s a formula for success.”
He also pointed out that Ruby Tuesday’s one commercial for the quarter, which promoted its signature dishes in a brand-centric campaign, had an Ace Score of 645. The ad did well because of its focus on food photography, which helped garner a high “desire” score — Ace Metrix’s measurement of how much viewers want to try the food in the ad.
“Ruby Tuesday really did well on the desire scale, and viewers loved that Pavlovian response,” he said. “The desire score was a 736, compared with the category norm of 634. A 100-point swing above the norm in a category with already high desire scores is pretty significant.”
Ace Metrix is based in Mountain View, Calif.