Indicators of consumer perception and social media engagement have steadily risen for Taco Bell since the March 27 introduction of its new breakfast platform, suggesting that the launch was successful — and that it might have had an effect on top quick-service breakfast player McDonald’s.

“This is looking very much like a positive story for Taco Bell,” said Ted Marzilli, chief executive of YouGov BrandIndex, a consumer research firm that tracked steady increases in its proprietary “buzz score” and “impression score” for Taco Bell for the past three weeks.

Beginning March 27, Taco Bell’s buzz score rose from 13.2 out of 100 to a high of 17.6 on April 16, the last day that BrandIndex collected data from about 5,000 daily surveys with American consumers on how positively or negatively they perceive brands. The chain’s climb in buzz score did not reverse even when McDonald’s began a two-week coffee giveaway on March 31 or launched its own ad campaign for McGriddles on April 14.

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During that time, McDonald’s buzz score started at 10.1 on March 27 and did not get back to that level until recovering to 10.0 on April 16. It reached a low of 7.8 on April 3, three days after the start of the coffee giveaway yielded a buzz score of 8.9.

However, McDonald’s recovery appeared to pick up speed after the McGriddles commercials started airing, going from 8.1 on April 14 to 10.0 two days later. Marzilli called those increases in buzz score for Taco Bell “meaningful,” especially since those same metrics decreased slightly for McDonald’s in the campaign to date.

“If Taco Bell has more versions of the campaign, it could continue to gain similar attention, and then it’s all about how successful the menu items are,” Marzilli said. “They could be getting a new set of consumers who aren’t normal Taco Bell customers, who might permanently raise their level of perception about Taco Bell.”

The BrandIndex data cannot prove that Taco Bell’s improvements in buzz score came definitively at the expense of McDonald’s scores, Marzilli noted, nor can they separate the effect of Taco Bell’s combative ads from the effects of other negative-press events for McDonald’s, such as the “wage theft” lawsuits filed last month.

However, Marzilli could say for certain that Taco Bell’s advertising and social media efforts qualified as a successful introduction.

“All of those things for McDonald’s matter, but over the past couple weeks Taco Bell’s breakfast launch and ads have gotten a lot of pass-around effect,” Marzilli said. “They’ve appeared on network media, and the Ronald McDonald thing was clever and grabbed a lot of attention. It certainly had a good compounding effect from all the additional press.”

Also, 46 percent of BrandIndex respondents reported they were aware of the brand’s advertising, an increase from 36 percent before the March 27 launch of breakfast. BrandIndex also tracked purchase consideration, or the percentage of consumers surveyed who said they now might visit Taco Bell the next time they dine out, which rose from 32 percent to 34 percent after the breakfast launch.

The social impact

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Nation’s Restaurant News also gathered social media data around Taco Bell’s breakfast launch by conducting a campaign study with Sprinklr, the social analytics provider that powers the NRN Social 200.

Using breakfast-related terms and Taco Bell’s brand name — as well as “Ronald McDonald” as a search term to pull in data for Taco Bell’s first breakfast campaign commercial — and scraping engagement data from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and other platforms, Sprinklr found that Taco Bell’s breakfast message reached far and wide across social media.

Sprinklr calculated an amplification of Taco Bell’s message of more than 439,000 percent across social media, which indicates how much larger the sharing of Taco Bell’s breakfast-related content by fans and followers was than just via the brand posting about its new menu.

Taco Bell generated 33,463 brand impressions from its posts related to breakfast from March 20 through April 17, but the total marketplace of people talking about Taco Bell breakfast or sharing such content yielded nearly 147 million impressions, Sprinklr found.

The majority of Taco Bell’s engagement around breakfast occurred on Facebook, and, interestingly, the chain itself produced only the third most-engaged social media post about its breakfast. The post with the most fan actions — meaning likes, comments, shares, retweets, etc. — came from competitor Jack in the Box, which wrote on its Facebook page April 2:



That post produced more than 18,000 total actions, including more than 17,400 likes, more than 500 comments and more than 560 shares.

Next came a post from The Today Show’s Facebook page, which garnered nearly 5,800 actions, the day after Taco Bell launched breakfast:

The Irvine, Calif.-based brand did produce its own highly engaging post on YouTube, which received 4,934 fan actions by sharing Taco Bell’s first TV commercial for breakfast, called “Ronald McDonald.” In that video, real men who share the name of McDonald’s mascot are filmed saying how much they like Taco Bell breakfast items like the A.M. Crunchwrap. The YouTube video has been viewed more than 2.6 million times, a separate measure from Sprinklr’s count of fan actions.

The brand also had the most-engaged content about its breakfast on Twitter and Instagram. On the Google+ social platform, tech website Mashable had the top post about Taco Bell breakfast with its review of the menu items.

Contact Mark Brandau at
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN