How Fast Food is Keeping Up with Millennials: Insight from Millennial 20/20

Millennial research, Millennial insight, Millennial marketing, Gen Z research, Gen Z marketing, Gen Z insight, youth research, youth marketing

At this year’s Millennial 20/20 Summit, we heard directly from fast food brands about what they’re doing to stay relevant in the lives of young consumers…

Last week we were commingling with the movers and shakers of the youth marketing scene at the New York Millennial 20/20 Summit, hearing how Millennials are rapidly changing the way that business is done. We gained interesting insight sitting in on presentations and panels, and will be sharing more of what we saw and heard over the coming weeks.

Today’s Millennial 20/20 insight relates to fast food, an industry that doesn’t get a lot of love from those who regularly report on Millennial & Gen Z trends. While it’s true that young consumers are searching for healthier and more natural options, and that innovators such as Chipotle, Shake Shack, and Five Guys continue to draw a lot of attention, it’s also true that Millennials’ interest in healthy eating doesn’t mean they’ve sworn off fast food entirely.

Meanwhile, the titans of the fast food world aren’t exactly asleep at the wheel. Despite the fact that they operate thousands of locations worldwide and serve all generations, we heard directly from a few big fast food brands about what they’re doing to stay relevant in the lives of young consumers. Here’s what we learned from McDonald’s, Subway, and Taco Bell at the Millennial 20/20 Summit:

Millennial research, Millennial insight, Millennial marketing, Gen Z research, Gen Z marketing, Gen Z insight, youth research, youth marketingMcDonald’s goes native:

In December, we ranked the favorite fast food brands of Millennials & Gen Z, asking 1,000 males and females aged 13 to 34 the following: “Thinking about fast food or quick service restaurants, where you have the option to order your food at a counter or drive-thru, which fast food restaurant is your favorite?” The company that was cited most often? McDonald’s. Paul Matson, Director of Social Engagement for McDonald’s, pegged the chain’s number of daily transactions in the U.S. at 27 million across more than 14,000 locations, leading one to assume that for every visit to Shake Shack that is proudly posted on social media, there are dozens more unposted visits to McDonald’s.

So, what’s the problem? The fact that young consumers aren’t exactly owning up to every visit makes McDonald’s the brand relationship that they just aren’t bragging about. Being the largest chain in the market draws its fair share of media fire as well, which is why step one in creating a healthier relationship with young consumers is playing to their own food experiences. The solution was to develop sponsored content on Mic.com in a series dubbed the Ripple Effect, creating food-trend articles that are relevant for Millennials, and also position McDonald’s positively as a thought leader. Cory Haik, Chief Strategy Officer for Mic, described how the Millennial popularity of Mic represented fertile ground for McDonald’s messaging. In a world where Millennials are blocking ads and consuming video on streaming services rather than TV, partnering with Mic to create a series of sponsored articles, along with related videos on YouTube, represents a long-term, grassroots brand rebuild.

Millennial research, Millennial insight, Millennial marketing, Gen Z research, Gen Z marketing, Gen Z insight, youth research, youth marketingSubway goes mobile:

If there’s a company that rode the wave of ‘fresh’ from the start, it’s Subway. With nearly 27,000 restaurant locations in the U.S., they’re nearly twice as ubiquitous as McDonald’s. Sandwiches are consistently made from scratch in front of customers, allowing for customization at mass scale. Subway’s VP of Marketing Technology, Carissa Ganelli, was on hand to talk about how the new Subway app is keeping them connected with their customers. First, the app reduces the time spent waiting for a ‘one of a kind’ sandwich experience. Convenience has only become more valued since we published the trend Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That, largely driven by expectations on mobile. Second, they’re using mobile technology to drive repeat visits with a cash-back loyalty program that offers built-in examples of Surprise and Delight. Citing research that they’ve conducted, their efforts are driven by the insights that 60% of customers don’t know what they want for lunch an hour before lunchtime, and 44% of customers use their smartphones to decide what to have for lunch each day. With new app technology, they’re betting on mobile as the glue that will keep customers coming back for more.

Millennial research, Millennial insight, Millennial marketing, Gen Z research, Gen Z marketing, Gen Z insight, youth research, youth marketingTaco Bell experiments globally:

Despite having 7,000 locations in the U.S., Taco Bell is a brand that punches far higher than their weight class would indicate, cited as the 5th favorite fast food restaurant in our young consumer rankings. Described by Melissa Lora, President of Taco Bell International, as an insights-driven organization, they aim to first understand young people before attempting to make themselves understood by them. Their hard work and ‘anything goes’ mentality is paying off with unique engagements – from having the option to get married at their Las Vegas location, to asking an up-and-coming Canadian fashion designer to create a Taco Bell-inspired winter coat, to taking its restaurants in India upscale. We see Taco Bell mirroring Millennials’ desire to break out of the fast food genre by focusing on experiences that whimsically carry the brand along for the ride.

As a global brand, Taco Bell also localizes everything from branding to architecture to spice levels on a country-by-country basis, resulting in more than a few globe-trotting Millennials to seek out what their favorite brand looks like while traveling. According to Lora, “Millennials are similar the world over, they just express themselves differently.” Taco Bell’s ability to follow suit without seeming to be ‘trying too hard’ is a testament to their deep understanding of what makes Millennials & Gen Z tick.

To download the PDF version of this insight article, click here.

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The Newsfeed

Quote of the Day: “I like playing and talking about [Animal Crossing] with other people. It's nostalgic for me since I've been playing games from the series from a young age.”—Female, 22, PA

Which brands had the most YouTube subscribers in 2018? In media, Warner Bros. topped the list with 6.4 million subscribers, followed by BBC and ESPN. Apple beat out last year’s winner for tech PlayStation, while Red Bull and Ford remained the reigning champs of food and beverage and automotive, respectively. Finally, Nike was first place in the clothing category for the second year running, with 30,000 more subscribers than their closest competitor, Adidas. (Tubefilter)

A “Little League for esports” is fostering future esports stars—and fans for life. Super League Gaming is bringing some much-needed organization to youth competitive gaming, building teams of young Minecraft, League of Legends, and Clash Royal players, helping them train and compete. But the program isn’t just for the next Ninja; just like traditional sports, kids get a sense of community among like-minded friends. (AP News)

Nielsen reports that Millennials actually consume less media than older demos, but more of it is digital. While the average adult consumes over ten hours of content a day, 18-34-year-olds spend less than eight hours with media. And the heaviest smartphone users are 35-49-year-olds, who spend 20 minutes more each day on average with their phones than Millennials. However, the younger demo does spend 44% of their media time with digital devices, more than older demos that spend more time with TV as they age up. (THR)

Vitaminwater is wagering $100,000 that you can’t give up your smartphone for a year. Contestants have to disconnect from internet-enabled devices where “texting is a pleasant experience” for 365 days and post a pic to Twitter or Instagram explaining why they need the digital detox. And when the year’s up, they have to prove it. Considering that 65% of 13-36-year-olds told Ypulse they would be unable to unplug from their smartphones for a week, earning that $100,000 may be harder than they know. (Fortune)

Hard seltzer revenue skyrocketed over 400% over the past 18 months. White Claw leads the way for the category with top-of-the-results organic search (they’re the number one Google result for “hard seltzer”) and a social media presence that focuses on health and wellness-related imagery. Sparkling water is already one of Millennials’ favorite things to drink, and its hard version could rise through the ranks of their top alcoholic beverages. (Gartner)

Quote of the Day: “People call [video game culture] nerdy but I see nerdy as a positive connotation.”—Female, 28, MA

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