Hate it or love it, fast food won't go away because crowd favourites like the Big Mac, Hot Dog, and the Colonel's recipe, while they aren't always the best choice for health, are often times our guilty pleasures. This article takes an in-depth look at the major marketing themes in the fast food industry, their rationales, and alternatives that offer a more balanced perspective regarding people, relationships, and cultural values. Take the lead in your industry's marketing by creating a distinctive brand to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty. Contact us today for a free consultation to become the market leader.


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Consider one marketing theme you've recently seen and analyze its underlying motives while identifying a more compelling and balanced narrative.

Fast Food Retail Marketing


Executive Summary

  • Fast food marketing is competitive and the formula of great looking food and the "it's all about you" narrative has run its course
  • The Christian gospel ultimately is the most balanced paradigm to speak into the true aspirations and desires of people across cultures and times - even in fast food marketing
  • The fallacy of the gratify your desires messaging is that it ultimately falls short and there are 4 alternative themes to leverage
  • Corporate responsibility is often a means to an end in the industry and thorough evaluation must be considered to truly impact communities
  • Sex appeal has sometimes been featured in fast food commercial with dismal results - marketers should identify a more rich and even perspective on gender roles 

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Fast Food Industry Overview: Competition on Marketing and Pricing

Here is a sampling of fast food commercials that help us understand the themes we will be covering:



Fast food covers everything from dine-in burger joints to fast food stalls. It is the lunch time meal option of choice, selected for its convenience and relatively low-cost. The key battle grounds for fast food restaurants now primarily revolve around price and marketing. Who can provide the lowest cost option and who can convince their segments that their food is the best? This is because fast foods typically have comparable food ingredients because they have to serve food quickly and must be able to store the ingredients for optimized amounts of time. Food tastes can be simplified to ingredients' freshness and preparation technique, both of which are not among fast food's core competencies when compared to restaurants. So at the end of the day, fast food competes on pricing and marketing. Here we explore the avenue of marketing. This article also presents a case of why traditional market communications may fall short of addressing true customer needs when compared to gospel-aligned marketing messaging. Whether it's a secular or an emerging faith and fast food business, having marketing messaging that aligns to the gospel and its implications can set apart rivals in a crowded and ever-evolving business landscape, but most importantly, go the furthest in helping people that come to a fast food restaurant.

Conventional Fast Food Marketing Caters to your Wants

Fast food at its core is about highlighting the great entrees and beverages that are just waiting to satisfy your hunger or thirst. This messaging is usually reinforced by beads of tantalizing water droplets sliding down a cup along with cheese that has been melted to perfection on a beef patty. It's a formula that has seldom challenged and some have even included catchy tag lines to charm and amuse.

Theme: It's All About You

faith based fast food marketing 2

The fast food theme is typically catered to the consumer, that it's all about "you" and that the individual is highest form of authority, especialy for Canadian and American fast food marketers. Here we look at the nuanced marketing messages and offer alteratives that provide better lasting resonance and impact to target audiences. One of the most balanced themes on the about you marketing was actually taken with Subway and thier balance to enjoying life sustainably through asking customers to walk a  fine line between personal health and meal enjoyment.

The Dillemma with the "It's All About You" Marketing

  • Overinflated expectations: customers sometimes have unreasonable expectations that are reinforced by this imagery, leading them to mistreat restaurant employees.
  • Alienating communal cultures: a majority of people from Asian and Middle Eastern cultures prioritize individualism and communalism on different levels, meaning these people are alienated by this type of marketing
  • Life becomes contractual: this tends to seep into other areas of life, meaning customers are appraising every relationship they have as being contractual, with an attitude of "since it's about me I'll have to ensure everything in my life contributes to my well being"
  • The pursuit of contentment remains elusive: despite pursuing these things the all about you mentality still leaves people disatisfied, no matter what our next purchase promises to deliver, the appeal only lasts for so long.

Catering to the egos of customers plays into the notion that they are more special and how that is validated is if they get the entree or beverage that is being featured. Yet even though restaurants are not held accountable for this implicit promise, the consumer gets further disllusioned. In that way even though customers aren't picketing restaurants because they failed to deliver the happiness that was promised, it remains an open issue. The challenge with this position is that the needs of a human are rich and complex and designating one product or service as being the solution has never worked as people are still buying and looking for that purchase that finally satisfies them.

Alternative Marketing Messaging

Here are some alternative messages that fast food retailers can offer their customers for a more balanced perspective.

  • Life isn't easy but it will get better: having food that recognizes the best and worst of life is more realistic example of communication - at the end of the day people still need to eat. This acrobactic balance of life as good and bad helps to sympathize with people that are enjoying life or experiencing an ordeal, helping them recognize that it's part of life and to provide hope that it can get better. This is one of the major implications of the gospel.
  • Balancing individualism and communalism: one of the misaligned things about fast food commercials is that we're our own individuals and we don't need to be influenced by others because it's about us. Yet the challenge is that child development science has already proven that we are influenced by our family and community whether we know it or value it. Fast food retailers have usually gone to one end or the other but have seldom captured the essence and balance of how communities and personal decisions form a life.
  • Avoiding reducing relationships contractual links: Relationships are organic and placing contracual restrictions takes away from the long term well being of the people that restaurants serve.

Theme: Corporate Responsibility Marketing

faith based fast food marketing 3

The major fast food brands all support commuity building initiatives, with McDonald's creating Ronald McDonald House for supporting families in crisis. It is a stellar step to give back to local communities that support fast food resrautans either by patronizing them or providing brand exposure. 

The Challenge with Corporate Responsibility

Corporate responsibility is an important aspect of doing business in the community but it also creates tensions as people may see this as a way of getting more profits.

  • Charity is a means to an end: brands often become sponsors to local charities but often struggle with connecting their story to the charity's own mission in a meaningful way beyond using the charity to promote their brand
  • Charity work shouldn't inconvenience you: brands often aren't inconvenienced by helping their charities and this may indicate that charity work is merely lip service rather than way of being
  • Brands often drop the ball when dealing with company tension: brands have the opportunity to be transparent about the team tensions they may experience within a company, challenging themselves and others to not only treat communities well but people in companies well.  This opportunity is seldom taken advantage of

The themes above often run contrary to the primary value of businesses to be profitable. This is the tension that is commonly explored within individuals in that doing good for others may or may not lead to an increased position of benefit for oneself. Yet the gospel story shows us that self-giving and sacrifice is the truest form of well-being, even if in the short term there are incoveniences. But the gospel also frees an organization to pursue charity as an end in itself rather than a means to attain profits.

Alternative Marketing Messaging to Corporate Social Resonsibility

  • Corporate responsibility as a core value versus tactic: brands need to connect with local stories and issues in their communities rather than simply being a sponsor. This will take more time than writing a cheque and challenges fast food brands to become more intentional about their sponsorship efforts. This will mean marketing not only to consumers but also employees that the brand is making a strategic change rather than paying lip service or embarking on a public relations stunt. The gospel narrative indicates that charity is an end in itself rather than simply a pursuit that leads to prosperity. This represents a challenge for organizations but at the same time allows for endless opportunities for businesses as there are so many needs in local communities
  • Corporate responsibility should inconvenience us: charity is often seen as something we do during holidays or when we can afford to. With that mentality not only do commercial marketers but also individuals delude themselves that true lasting change can come without being inconvenienced. Brands can take the lead in demonstrating that when a neighbour is inconvenienced so should everyone else be. In the gospel narrative, Christ inconveniences himself on behalf of others
  • The first rule of social responsibility is to not talk about social responsibility: another approach to assessing the impact of your charitable work is to allow the recipients to share it while the company refrains from doing so. This way employees and consumers can draw their own conclusions as a brand begins doing the right things simply for the sake of doing the right things. This often leads to a clear reflection as to the true core values of an organization, is it about helping people or profits? Profits are not a bad thing but purusing them as the primary priority is an increasingly problematic endeavour


Theme: Uniting the Desires of Sex Appeal and Hunger

faith based fast food marketing 4

This theme is often provocative and divisive but has been tried by the likes of Hooters and Carl's Jr by featuring food and sensual images of females together in their marketing communication. This strategy brings together two common male desires to draw people into restaurants. Sex appeal has long been used a strategy to bring together vivid imagery with a brand and has been documented to have done so over many eras.

The Challenge with Sexualizing Food

The main challenges an identity based on sex appeal are:

  • Over half the people you market to won't buy from you- overwhelmingly over 50% of consumers indicated that sexism in marketing would negatively impact their purchasing decisions for a brand (source)
  • Brands, products, services being sold are often forgotten - once an ad is shown using this type of marketing messaging the brand itself is often forgotten - so it doesn't even work
  • Genders become alienated - food doesn't discriminate between genders but fast food brands are still making this gamble, yet ironically may end up diverting males from their restrautns as their significant others choose other places to patron

Alternatives to using Sex Appeal

For food retailers who are catering to the male demographic, there are a number of alternative themes to consider that has flexibility in gender roles while avoiding the risk of alienating a large segment of a market based on gender alone.

  • Did you know that you had it in you?: help men to see a broad range of gender roles from mechanics, working professionals, and homemakers or stay-at-home-parents and how food brings together all these equally meaningful roles for men. This is based on the biblical perspective of men having a unique leadership role that is positioned for service towards others in the household. It also does not limit the male to a certain types of job categories as a result of cultural bias. This is because the gospel completes culture
  • Creating Moments that Matter: fast food has an unbeatable speed and economic value and using that to the advantage of working parents can help them see how a quickly deliverd or pick-up meal can help save time towards connecting with those that matter. This is because the work of Christ is restoring and improving even the most solid relationships. The biblical perspective assures us that it is relationships that will truly last when all is said and done
  • Building Culture: by equally representing both genders and encouraging them to build meaningful connections instead of fueling the apocalyptic dating trend, a brand can use this as a means to provide timely social commentary. This is evidently meaningful to those who have pursued apocalyptic dating but have found it to be lacking.There remains a significant gap in how individuals date one another now and this is an area where a brand can take leadership and chart a course for something lasting and impactful to maturing generations.

Appealing to physical attraction between genders seldom works and has also created backlash. The underlying motivation is the need for intimacy and affirmation. Fast food brands can have meaningful impact on culture by carefully assessing what are the underlying motivations that people are looking for as opposed to profiting only in the short term by trying to indluge these desires.

Gospel Implications Provide Abundnant Possibilites for Marketing

Faith-based values marketing is an approach to help companies reach audiences on a deeper level, helping to establish and position brands into a new stratosphere of recognition and appreciation for consumers and their humanity, including their strengths, flaws, and potential. Here are steps to helping uncover alternative and distruptive marketing messaging that hits home:

  • Identify the values of current marketing efforts
  • Analyze these values and the aspirations that they are addressing
  • Go deeper and understand alternatives to meeting these expectations and desires
  • Provide alternative messaging to address these issues
  • Review messaging to see if it dehumanizes or celebrates a person's or a community's richness
  • Elaborate on messaging and further demonstrate how it addresses desires and aspirations for the demographic


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