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Study: Fast-food advertising saw social media surge

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Fast-food advertising efforts showed a marked social media surge in three years, according to a new study by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

The study, which reported findings on 18 of the top restaurant chains in the United States from 2012, reprised an earlier study that focused on 2009.

The popularity of restaurant Facebook pages “grew exponentially,” the study said, with Starbucks clocking in the lowest growth rate at a 208 percent increase. Domino’s had the biggest increase in popularity, with almost 16 times as many “likes” in 2013 as it had in 2010.

Similarly, all the restaurants “greatly accumulated Twitter followers.” Starbucks again had the lowest rate of growth, quadrupling from the approximately 1 million followers it had in 2010, and Subway had the highest rate, with 65 times more followers than it had three years ago.

The restaurants also posted far more videos on YouTube than they did three years ago, the study said, and other social media platforms were also increasingly popular.

From 2009 to 2012, the number of display ads on youth websites declined by 55 percent for the 12 restaurants analyzed in 2009. However, restaurants placed almost 6 billion ads on Facebook in 2012, or 19 percent of all display advertising, making Facebook the primary website for fast-food advertising placements in 2012.

On average, 6 percent of fast-food restaurant display advertisements appeared on youth websites every month in 2012, down from 23 percent in 2009.

Most restaurants in the analysis had more unique visitors to their traditional websites than their mobile sites. Exceptions were,, and On average, visitors to most of the mobile websites spent less than three minutes per visit.

Total advertising spending by fast-food restaurants reached $4.6 billion in 2012, an 8 percent increase over the $4.3 billion spent in 2009, the study said. TV continued to be the dominant medium, accounting for 88 percent of all fast-food advertising spending ($4.1 billion in 2012).

Consistent with 2009, all other media, including radio, outdoor and Internet, each accounted for 5 percent or less of total advertising spending ($226 million, $199 million, and $68 million, respectively).

“While TV represented three-quarters or more of advertising spending for most restaurants, a few dedicated a greater proportion of their budget to other types of media,” the study said.”

Starbucks, for example, spent 10 percent of its advertising dollars on the Internet and 29 percent on magazines but only 40 percent on TV advertising. The proportions of Panera Bread’s budget allocated to radio and outdoor advertising were higher than average at 19 percent and 23 percent, respectively, and Chick-fil-A dedicated 26 percent of spending to outdoor advertising.

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