Inside Track by Mark Wingett
Young people are important. Not for the purposes of this article in a “we are the world, we are the future” kind of way, but on an economic level. They are key to numerous markets, whether that is fashion and technology or eating and drinking out.

Without them the already maligned British high street would be in an even bleaker state. The youth audience spends money. In the case of students alone, who account for around half the UK youth population, they contribute an estimated £20bn to the economy every year.

That’s why it is worth taking note of the findings from the inaugural Youth 100 report, which was released at the end of last month and polled over 1,000 18 to 24-year-old students regarding their thoughts on leading brands across a number of key categories.

One such category was fast food, with Greggs placed at number 19 just ahead of Channel 4, Subway 44th and McDonald’s 83rd, while Burger King and KFC failed to make the top 100.

In the poll, McDonald’s was ‘liked’ by 43% of those questioned, and ‘disliked’ by 21%, Burger King was ‘liked’ by 31% and ‘disliked’ by 29%, while KFC was ‘liked’ by 33% and ‘disliked’ by 23%. This was against 46% who ‘liked’ and 10% who ‘disliked’ Greggs and 48% who ‘liked’ and 15% who ‘disliked’ Subway.

If anything the results of the survey showed that, in spite of clamours for tighter regulation of the fast food industry to counter the threat of rising obesity levels, fast food continues to play an important role in young people’s lives.

“One of the most interesting trends has been the emergence of Greggs and Subway as serious challengers to the traditional domination of the ‘Big 3’: McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC,” highlights David Kisilevsky, director at McCann Erickson, the global advertising agency. “While Greggs is experimenting with new, more modern and aspirational store designs - no doubt with the goal of pulling the brand away from its traditional image as a purveyor of cheap gut-fill food - Subway has continued to leverage its positioning as a lighter and ‘healthier’ alternative to traditional fast food.”

Kisilevsky argues that the ‘Big 3’ continue to polarise opinion. He says: “McDonald’s has struggled to convert its superior restaurant footprint and marketing muscle into positive brand empathy. For a brand that not that long ago was described by one national newspaper as “as British as fish and chips”, it’s a little surprising that McDonald’s still generates a high level of ‘dislike’ and a relatively low level of ‘love’.

“Successful international brands often struggle against the curiously British phenomenon of resentment of success. However, McDonald’s seemed to be making inroads here and, while they have worked hard to change their image as an ‘ugly American’ and their UK business has contributed significantly to the company’s global turnaround, it’s clear they still face an uphill struggle to win the hearts and minds of the British public.”

Both KFC and Burger King have struggled to dent McDonald’s domination of the UK fast food market. The latter has attempted to cast off its ‘junk food’ associations through menu diversification and its ‘So Good’ re-branding.

“I may be wrong, but this feels to me like a strategy driven by research findings rather than genuine insight into its customer base,” says Kisilevsky. “KFC is essentially an indulgent treat and by trying to ‘sanitise’ its menu and broaden the brand’s appeal, I fear the company may be under-playing one of its greatest assets.”

It seems that Burger King has more reasons than most to be disappointed with the findings of the survey.

Kisilevsky says: “After years as an also-ran in the UK fast food market, the brand appeared to have done a great job in developing a credible and compelling ‘challenger brand’ positioning. Amidst much gnashing of teeth from its competitors, Burger King became the first fast food brand to voluntarily pull out of TV advertising targeted at children and was the first hamburger chain to introduce 100% certified Angus beef.

“It seemed as if the brand was ready to mount a serious challenge to McDonald’s and KFC. However, the last couple of years have seen a return to an emphasis on short-term tactical promotion and it’s no surprise to see a low level of genuine brand enthusiasm.

“A compelling brand proposition is a prerequisite for success in any market. For Burger King, already at a significant price disadvantage to its competitors, the absence of such a clearly defined proposition could prove terminal.”