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What can 3 fast-food giants teach us about effective OOH?

August 2021

This is a self-funded case study using our Advertising Testing solution.

Out-of-home advertising (OOH) as a channel has faced significant headwinds over the last year or so, with its role diminished in a world of lockdowns, reduced travel, and remote working. However, with normality returning (in some parts of the world, at least), the channel is forecast to continue on its strong growth trajectory prior to COVID-19.

While all advertising needs to grab attention and be noticed, this is especially true for OOH given its generally short exposure window. Given the need to trigger rapid brand associations, delivering a clear and single-minded message is a prerequisite for success in the channel.

The nature of fast-food consumption (i.e. convenience, on-the-go) and ability for hyper-local targeting makes OOH especially suitable for the category. McDonald’s has been a pioneer in this space over the years, representing one of the top five OOH spenders in the U.S., and continually pushing the boundaries of the format to drive traffic to its restaurants.

But, we wondered, how does one of McDonald’s more recently-launched campaigns stack up against key competitors – Burger King and KFC – each which took very different creative approaches? Which one do we predict will have the biggest brand impact, both in the short- and long-term? To find out we used our three C’s framework:

  • Captivate: Does it attract and retain attention, and engage in an emotional way?
  • Connect: Does it leverage unique branding properties to create instant recognition?
  • Compel: Does it leave people with a lasting impression about the brand?

OOH Ad Testing - Fast Food Brands - Test Stimulus

Despite McDonald’s long history of leveraging the OOH channel better than pretty much anyone else, ‘Lights On’ drew a largely apathetic response, with its presentation not exciting people enough to warrant further investigation. 

On the flipside, KFC’s ‘Your Chicken Could Never’ successfully grabbed people’s attention – but for many this was as a result of significant displeasure. Almost a third were put off by the creepy faces, prompting significant disgust. While there’s no doubt shock tactics attract eyeballs, the emotions they stir are rarely the ones fast-food brands want to associate themselves with. This represents a sense of déjà vu following Burger King’s ‘Moldy Whopper’ campaign from 2020.

Having seemingly learnt their lesson, Burger King let the product do the talking in ‘It’s not a secret’. The bright and appetizing imagery absorbed people in the visuals, in-turn making the ad the most likeable of the three.

WINNER: Burger King. A bright and eye-popping visual is often all that’s needed to grab the attention of passers-by.

OOH Ad Testing - Mc Donald's, Burger King, KFC - Captivate


The ad’s single-minded focus on the iconic Whopper burger, both in terms of visuals and copy, cued one of Burger King’s strongest assets. This was further enhanced by the familiar color palette and fonts, while being consistent with the brand’s ongoing ‘It's not a secret. It's real fire’ campaign.

Relatively few people (less than 30% spontaneously) picked up on iconic golden arches of McDonald’s in their altered form, while abandoning the product entirely – along with the brand’s iconic red color – limited the ad’s perceived fit with the brand.

However, the title of weakest brand synergy went to KFC – while featuring the brand’s iconic fried chicken prominently, people’s attention was instead fixated on the characters’ distorted faces. This was in-turn the indelible image left in people’s minds, rather than anything explicitly to do with the brand. 

WINNER: Burger King. Feature your distinctive assets in the clearest, most recognizable, and least abstract way. 

OOH Ad Testing - Fast Food Brands - Connect


Many people were left perplexed by the contorted faces for KFC, specifically how they related to the “Your Chicken Could Never” tagline and brand more broadly. ‘Lights On’ also confused – while no doubt a clever utilization of the brand’s golden arches, it was perhaps too clever – with many not getting the intended symbolism of McDonald’s golden arches reaching into people’s homes.

In both cases the ads lacked obvious cohesion between the visuals and intended message. While perhaps not having the same creative flair of the other two, the mouthwatering Whopper excited people’s tastebuds. People frequently endorsed the burger’s ‘freshness’ as well as direct callouts to being ‘flame-grilled’ and ‘real’, laddering up to a highly believable and persuasive appeal.

WINNER: Burger King. While you don’t have to spell it out, ensure people are left with a clear impression about the brand.

OOH Ad Testing - Mc Donald's, Burger King, KFC outdoor ads - Compel


Clients often ask us about the unique dynamics of OOH as a channel and how to develop winning creative. While it’s important to consider the context in which OOH will be consumed when developing creative, it’s no more important than anywhere else advertising messages will be appearing. Regardless of the channel, platform, or format, the ingredients for effective content don’t change; all advertising needs to Captivate, Connect, and Compel.

One of the key things this case study reminds us of is the importance of simplicity. Does this mean showcasing the product is the only path to OOH success (particularly for fast-food)? Of course not, and the small selection of ads we’ve tested here isn’t intended to suggest that. However, ensuring the ad’s intent is clearly understood and fully-leverages existing branding properties, gives OOH – like all other media – the best chance of succeeding.

Outdoor Ad Testing - Mc Donald's, Burger King, KFC fast-food brands - Performance Summary

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