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

“My work schedule can be hectic, so I snack on nuts, berries, or other non-deadly foods during any downtime.”

—Male, 32, KY

AwesomenessTV and fashion/beauty brands are coming together to make branded series for Gen Z. In the past, AwesomenessTV has worked with numerous brands to produce original content, including CoverGirl and Kohl’s. Now they’re planning a 24-part docu-series with Hollister called “This is Summer,” following teens’ high school journeys—while they’re clad in shoppable Hollister clothing of course. Our own Chief Content Officer explains that Ypulse has “found Gen Z to be fairly open to watching sponsored entertainment,” with 77% of 13-17-year-olds agreeing, "As long as the story is interesting, I don't mind that it is sponsored." (Glossy)

Fullscreen agrees that Gen Z is the generation that’s most receptive to branded content. Their survey found over half of Gen Z doesn’t mind even undisclosed branded content, and significantly more Gen Z teens than Millennials have engaged with social branded content (viewing photos, liking and sharing content and tagging friends) in the past six months. Influencer marketing wins out with the group, with over half of teens preferring influencer content to pre-roll, sponsored posts, banners, and traditional TV commercials. The sweet spot for advertisers may be branded video, especially when influencers are involved. (TubefilterAdweek)

Graduation spending is expected to reach a record $5.6 billion for the Class of 2017. Over half of the graduation gifts given will be cash, followed by greeting cards, gift cards, apparel, and electronic devices. Another trend for the year is more and more peers giving each other gifts, with a 6% lift year over year. Younger consumers will spend an average of $78.42 ,compared to 45-54-year-olds’ $119.84 and 65-and-over’s $112.34, and while greeting cards are also most popular, they’re also almost twice as likely to gift clothing. (ConsumerAffairs)

Instagram has the “most negative impact on young people’s mental wellbeing,” followed by Snapchat, according to a recent study. The image-centric platforms could “driv[e] feelings of inadequacy and anxiety,” and were rated the most poorly for their impacts on sleep, FOMO, and body image. Out of the top five most popular social media platforms, YouTube was the only one that earned a positive score. The silver lining? Some argue the evaluation is “blaming the medium for the message,” and social media/online communities are also Gen Z and Millennials’ top resource for learning about “mindfulness, meditation, and wellness,” according to Ypulse data. (The Guardian)

Lego is being called the “most powerful brand in the world,” beating out Google, Visa, and Nike. Brand Finance’s latest valuation report shows Lego’s brand value increased 68% over last year, looking at metrics like “familiarity, loyalty, promotion, marketing investment, staff satisfaction and corporate reputation.” At least some of the lift can be attributed to the successful movie franchise (The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie) and its strategic partnership with Star Wars.

(Business Insider)

“I kind of don't like the commercialization of fandom culture…However, creating licensed products is one way a brand could interact.”

—Male, 24, MO

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