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4 Lessons from Taco Bell, Burger King, Sonic, and the Cult of Irreverence

unnamed-2Taco Bell, Burger King, and Sonic keep the mood light on social.

They know that if you view them as entertainment, you’ll be more receptive to their product pushes. They know that social marketing efforts for casual eating find success with a casual tone and interactive presence. 

We dove into each of these brand’s top posts for engagement over the past nine months, from January 1, 2014 to September 30, 2014, to see what lessons we can learn from these brands who get our attention with humor and have us leaving with a strong sense of product and brand awareness. 

Ride the Wave 

The post below was one of Taco Bell’s most engaging posts on Instagram over the past nine months, with 38,838 in engagement — double the channel average.

This could be us, but you playing.

A post shared by Taco Bell (@tacobell) on

Taco Bell does a brilliant job here of playing on the social media sensation #ThisCouldBeUsButYouPlaying in an appropriately ironic fashion that still keeps some (romantic) heart behind it. Please note that Taco Bell’s strategy of entertaining while slipping in some product awareness is in full effect here, too — Taco Bell’s 12-pack is definitely the third member in this relationship.

Rep Your Darlings

Click below and what do you notice about Burger King’s top ten posts by total engagement in the past nine months?

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Source: Simply Measured Cross-Channel Social Performance Report

60% (6/10) of Burger King’s most engaging posts for the time period mentioned their beloved chicken fries, either with the hashtag #ChickenFriesAreBack or including chicken fries as part of a delicious Burger King meal spread.     icon-stats-figuresThe term “chicken fries” received between about 600 and 1,000 social mentions on Facebook and Twitter during January 2014.   The success of #ChickenFriesAreBack can’t just be chalked up to the natural, mouth-watering popularity of chicken fingers shaped as french fries. The snack’s social popularity can be largely attributed to the amount of weight and campaign resources that Burger King smartly threw behind the re-release. The cross-channel social bet clearly paid off, since Burger King averaged 380 tweets a minute from its social audience with 150,000 total social media mentions in the campaign’s first 72 hours.

Over time, people forget what it is you have in the restaurant. So you bring things back for a period of time, and then you make business decisions based on that. — Eric Hirschhorn, CMO of Burger King, as told to AdWeek 

This was Burger King’s top post on social across all its channels, the first #ChickenFriesAreBack announcement on Facebook:  


It’s a great example of Burger King pairing the re-announcement of a beloved product with a playful message delivery.

One-on-One Conversations 

This post was Sonic’s fourth-most engaging post across all its social channels in the past nine months, receiving twelve times Sonic’s average engagement on Facebook.


The post focuses on a 2-for-1 deal — the focus of many top posts between Taco Bell, Burger King, and Sonic had to do with special deals and limited-time offers — but that’s not what I’d like to point out. Instead, take a look at these comments (click to zoom).

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This is so exciting because it shows Sonic making stories and real connections through just the right amount of irreverence and contact with fans. Sonic is asking for interaction from fans and following up with it, building true brand personality, and driving a much deeper level of engagement with fans than most brands normally experience with deal awareness posts.

For a Limited Time Only

Taco Bell, Burger King, and Sonic do beautifully with limited-time offers. In an extreme example of this, Sonic made its Mystery Disappearing Slush available for one day only, August 21:


This post was one of Sonic’s most engaging in the past nine months, with five times more engagement than the average Sonic Facebook post.

It was part of Sonic’s digital-only campaign rolled out on Snapchat (appropriate for the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t nature of the social blitz and slush availability), Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Giphy.

TV is still certainly the lion’s share of our budget and certainly not dead. But you’re going to see youthful, fun, adventurous [and] interesting promotions from us a lot more going forward—especially on the social platforms.

–Todd Smith, CMO of Sonic, as told to AdWeek

Sonic hoped to target millennials and a broader teen audience with the campaign.

What Are Your Favorite Fast Food Campaigns? 

Screenshot posts, drop ’em in the comments section below, and tell us what you love about them! If you’d like to learn more about in-depth analysis across all your active social channels, click below to download our holistic guide.

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Lucy Hitz

I’m the Head of Marketing Communications here at Simply Measured, where I'm responsible for our content program, social media marketing, PR, and comarketing ventures. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.

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