A recent study showed that Chick-fil-A saw an increase in consumer awareness and customer usage during the third quarter of 2012, a time when heated discussion surrounded the company's stances on gay rights and same-sex marriage.
Consumer awareness of Chick-fil-A’s ads increased 6.5 percent during the third quarter, according to a study by Sandelman & Associates, a restaurant research firm based in San Clemente, Calif.
The findings are based on survey results from about 30,000 quick-service customers in Chick-fil-A’s markets as part of Sandelman & Associates' Quick-Track study, a quarterly syndicated survey of quick-service and fast-casual consumers.
During the same period, the number of Chick-fil-A “regulars” also increased in 28 of 35 of the markets surveyed, and consumer use of the chain increased by 2.2 percent.
The study also found that the company’s unaided brand awareness — a consumer’s ability to name Chick-fil-A off the top of their head when asked to name quick-service chains — increased 2.8 percent year over year.
Chick-fil-A declined to comment on the findings.
Sandelman & Associates president Jeffrey Davis said the findings weren’t surprising to his team. “We were saying it before we saw the result,” he said.
“Chick-fil-A has been very consistent,” he said of the company’s messaging. “Their position on issues, their running their company under Christian principals — customers know that.”
Chick-fil-A drew controversy in July when its chief executive, Dan Cathy, told the Baptist Press that he supports the “biblical definition of the family unit.” The comment, viewed as anti-gay by some, resulted in rallies for both protest against and support for Chick-fil-A.
In the past, the WinShape Foundation, Chick-fil-A’s not-for-profit arm, has donated to groups including Focus on the Family and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Both groups are known for, among other things, advocating against same-sex marriage.
An earlier study from market research firm YouGov BrandIndex suggested that Chick-fil-A's media exposure amid the controversy had a negative impact on consumer perception of the brand. According to the New York-based firm's research — which creates an index score based on consumers’ average ratings of perceptions for a brand’s buzz, quality, value and reputation — Chick-fil-A saw its ratings decline to its lowest score in two years.
“To some extent, awareness is a good thing, but certainly not in all cases,” Davis said. “[In the case of the Sandelman & Associates study] it really had nothing to do with their operation. It had more to do with their philosophy.”
Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A operates more than 1,600 restaurants in 39 states.