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| Chart of The Week | Fast Casual Dining Restaurants: Change in Brand Preference

March 21st, 2023 Comments off

The MSW TBSM tracking service measures Brand Preference as one component of the survey.  Brand Preference was collected for approximately twenty major Fast Casual Restaurant brands in both Q1 2022 (among 1000 demographically and geographically balanced respondents) and Q1 2023 (among 500 similarly balanced respondents).  This week’s chart examines the five fast casual options that saw statistically significant trends in brand preference, both positive and negative, between the two time periods.

  • Brand Preference is the gold-standard metric for assessing a brand’s strength in the hearts and minds of consumers.  In fact, independent studies conducted by the Marketing Accountability Standards Board (MASB) found that preference fit sales and market share results better than any other metric studied.  This strong relationship between preference and sales has also been demonstrated in the Fast Casual Restaurant category (r = +0.94).
  • An analysis presented by Placer in mid 2022 indicated that after a strong 2021, the fast casual segment was seeing visitation trends drop off as inflation caused consumers to trade down to QSR.  A November 2022 poll by Decision Analyst reported 59% of Americans were eating out less and confirmed the trend of trade down to fast food outlets.
  • Against this backdrop, TBSM brand preference trends over the past year show that the option that gained the most in the past year was the “your favorite other brand” option.  While this result could represent an increase in variety seeking among restaurant goers in general, it could also reflect the aforementioned slide in the fast casual segment overall.

  • The one brand with the most impressive growth in brand preference over the past year is Jersey Mike’s Subs.  The 2.0 percentage-point growth in preference is particularly striking due to the brand starting at a relatively low level of 4.2% in Q1 of 2022.  This growth corresponds with in-market data from Earnest Insights which shows that Jersey Mike’s sales more than doubled between January of 2020 and August of 2022, a result that made them the growth leader in the fast casual industry.
    • While Jersey Mike’s preference was already strong among the Age 55+ segment, the chain’s growth in preference over the last year was fueled by increases among the younger age groups, particularly age 35 to 54.
    • Very strong preference growth for Jersey Mike’s was also seen among those respondents from the southern U.S.
  • While not quite statistically significant, preference increases of around 2 percentage-points were realized by the two largest players in the fast casual space, Chipotle and Panera Bread.
    • Chipotle recently reported strong growth in 2022, with overall revenue increasing by 14.4% – including 8.0% growth in comparable restaurant sales.
    • Sales data for the past year is not readily available for privately held Panera Bread.  But much has been made of the development of its digital channel which now accounts for 50% of sales, and its growth into urban markets with redesigned, smaller locations.
  • Brands that saw a statistically significant weakening in brand preference include Zaxby’s, Noodles & Company and Qdoba.
  • Noodles & Company experienced a difficult 2022 with a reported net loss of $3.3 million.
  • Qdoba and Zaxby’s are privately held and so recent financial information is limited.
    • However, Qdoba has been sold several times over the years, most recently in October 2022, and the chain has seen minimal growth in the number of locations over the past 5+ years.
    • While Zaxby’s has been growing outside its original stronghold in the southeastern U.S., perhaps the fierce competition in the chicken restaurant space and inflationary pressures have caused a bit of a bump in the road for the brand.
  • While not statistically significant, Jimmy John’s saw a 2 percentage-point drop in brand preference, suggesting that Jersey Mike’s success might be eating into its more established rival’s store of brand preference to some extent.

Super Bowl – Super Price Tag: Is Super Bowl Advertising Worth It?

February 2nd, 2023 Comments off

The Super Bowl is an enormous event – arguably the biggest in the United States.  And it’s much more than the game itself.  It’s also the parties, the playoff pools, the bloated halftime show and of course the commercials.  Advertising has become an integral part of the event.  But that prominence comes with quite a price tag.  It is being reported that a single 30-second spot for this year’s Super Bowl will come in at around $7 million.

That’s a hefty sum.  For some perspective, before last year’s game, DIGIDAY reported what the cost of a single 30-second Super Bowl ad could purchase in the digital advertising arena.  Their list included 650 million impressions for a Facebook ad or 843 million impressions for a TikTok ad.  In contrast, NBC averaged 112.3 million viewers across its platforms during last year’s Super Bowl.  Clearly, these digital alternatives offer many times the raw impressions.  On the other hand, year-after-year the network carrying the big game consistently sells out the available airtime.  What makes advertising during the Super Bowl worth such a premium price?


In an age of media fragmentation, the Super Bowl provides pure reach that nothing else can come close to.  Most media channels have a limited audience, and the same people end up being shown the same ads over and over again.  On the other hand, the Super Bowl provides the opportunity to reach over 100 million unique consumers at exactly the same time.  There is no better way for a mass market product or service to reach such a mass audience so efficiently.


Let’s face it.  For most advertising, many viewers are scheming to skip, ignore or avoid any spot that’s directed their way.  When unskippable, the commercial break is the time for the run to the bathroom, to get a snack, have a conversation or focus attention on a second screen.  But not during the Super Bowl.  In fact, a healthy percentage of Super Bowl viewers rate the ads as being an important if not the primary reason for watching the game.  For example, a 2022 study by Avocado indicated that 42% of Super Bowl viewers tune in specifically for the ads.  The Super Bowl provides an audience that is not interested in skipping the ads, but rather is eagerly awaiting them.

Earned Media

The 100+ million viewers at game time are not the only viewers that advertisers get for their money.  Discussion of the commercials begins weeks before the game, with websites providing running lists of who’s in and links to pre-released versions of some of the ads.   After the game, many websites discuss the ads, rank the ads and provide links to watch them all (USA Today’s Ad Meter being the most well-known example).  This fascination with Super Bowl ads provides brands with many additional impressions for their ads outside of the live Super Bowl broadcast, even among consumers who aren’t interested in watching the game itself.


Super Bowls get people talking, including about the ads; sometimes especially about the ads.  In 2022, a University of Minnesota study looked at how Super Bowl ads affect word-of-mouth marketing for brands.  This refers to consumers talking about a product or service with others.  The study found a 16% increase in total word-of-mouth (both online and offline conversations) for the month after the game.  This suggests that the Super Bowl audience is not just talking about the entertainment aspect of the ads, but also the products or services themselves.  This could be particularly relevant for brands in categories for which recommendations are an important factor in the purchase decision.


An emotional connection between the brand and its customers is vital to building long-term equity.  In fact, MSW has found that, along with Relevance and Differentiation, an Emotional Connection is one of the three pillars of long-term brand building.  Storytelling in ads is one way to build this emotional bond.  However, the trend toward shorter ads makes this difficult.  It is almost impossible to tell a compelling story in 15 seconds.  Super Bowl ads tend to buck this trend as most spots are 30 or even 60 seconds in length.  And many do endeavor to tell the type of story that is rarely seen in typical television advertising.  This provides agencies with the perfect opportunity to reinforce the brand’s place not just in consumers’ minds, but in their hearts as well.


MSW has found that the effectiveness of advertising is amplified among viewers who are more engaged in the content.  In fact, television ad effectiveness has been found to be amplified by 35%, on average, among engaged audiences.  As measured by the MSW ad amplification metric, characteristics of engagement include heightened attention, immersion and losing track of time, all of which may characterize a football fan’s viewing experience, particularly in a big game.

Of course, it is not generally an either/or situation for brands advertising in the Super Bowl, as a large marketing budget is a must for brands entertaining the possibility of a Super Bowl ad.  To make the most of the Super Bowl investment, brands will coordinate other marketing efforts such as social media and their websites.  For example, last year Taco Bell used Doja Cat to tease its Super Bowl promotion ahead of the game on TikTok.

Beyond the reasons discussed above, here are a few thoughts on some other specific circumstances in which a brand may consider Super Bowl advertising:

  • Launch of a new product:  New products only have a short time to establish themselves.  While estimates vary and categories differ, it is clear that a lot of new products fail.  What better way is there to get the word out quickly about a new product than by introducing it to over 100 million people all at once?  In last year’s Super Bowl, we saw introductions in CPG (Bud Light Next), EVs (Chevy Silverado, which is still not actually available) and even a rollercoaster (Jurassic World Velocicoaster), to name a few.
  • Promote place in a new category:  Building salience for a brand in an emerging category is critically important, as becoming an early leader is a huge advantage.  The Super Bowl’s vast audience is a great way to aid in achieving this, which is why last year featured multiple ads in such emerging categories as Cryptocurrency Exchanges, Online Sportsbooks, Electric Vehicles and Online Car Dealers.  The association with the Super Bowl can even lend legitimacy to a new category such as with Crypto Exchanges (whether deserved or not).
  • Take advantage of timing:  Sometimes Super Bowl advertising makes sense on the basis of current trends.  As the nation and world were emerging from travel restrictions due to the COVID pandemic at the time of last year’s game, we saw ads for travel websites, airlines and a theme park.  On a seasonal basis, ads in the tax preparation category make sense given the game coincides with the start of tax season.
  • Build association with NFL football:  It’s no coincidence that ads for chips, beer and soft drinks are Super Bowl staples given their natural place in game watching.  But other types of brands may wish to cultivate an association with the NFL given that football is easily the most followed sport in the U.S. (by around three-quarters of sports fans per Statista).

Given the size of the investment, clearly advertisers want to get their Super Bowl ad right.  No one wants their ad to reside at the bottom of the Best & Worst Super Bowl Ads list.  This requires proper planning and research – which in fact, benefits advertising of all kinds.  Please contact MSW to find out how our research solutions can benefit your brand.

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TBSM Chart of the Week 2022 Review

December 8th, 2022 Comments off

The MSW TBSM tracking service collects a variety of metrics across a wide range of categories. Throughout 2022, we published Charts of the Week using data drawn from the TBSM survey.  Six different categories and multiple measures within each category have been explored.  The categories were:

• Subscription Streaming Video Services
• Cryptocurrency Exchanges
• Domestic Airlines
• Meal Kit Services
• Body Moisturizers
• Fast Casual Restaurants

To illustrate the utility of some of the metrics available from the TBSM service, we will review some of the charts published over the past year.

One core question included in the TBSM survey is Brand Franchise. This question efficiently gauges the relationship of consumers with the major competitors in a particular category. The results can be used to quantify a wide range of concepts, such as awareness, consideration, usage, loyalty, conversion ratios, etc. One interesting analysis we like to focus on in our Charts of the Week is cross brand consideration – that is the overlap in consideration among brands. This analysis allows us to create a consideration map which helps to reveal which brands are closest competitors, the composition of market niches and brands that may be perceived as unique versus the competition. An example is the Airline Cross Brand Consideration chart which shows the overlap among the three traditional major airline brands, the close proximity of the two ultra-discount carriers, but the greater dispersion among the three discount airlines.



Another portion of the TBSM survey focuses on product characteristics that play a role in decision making when choosing a brand in a particular category. Respondents may identify multiple characteristics that are important to them and which one of those characteristics are most important. This information can be crossed with other metrics such as demographics, usage levels or brand relationship status to generate important insights. One example Chart of the Week from the Body Moisturizer category shows how skin rejuvenation is particularly important to the 55+ age group, among other insights.



Trends in important characteristics can also be informative. One interesting example comes from the Cryptocurrency Exchange category. We compared characteristics of primary importance before and after the high profile Crypto Super Bowl advertisements. The only item to gain, with an increase of 4 percentage points, was “From a Brand I Trust”. This seemed to indicate that the advertising and associated hype had a positive effect on branding in the category.



TBSM also collects information on the level of category usage. This information can provide insight into the most important consumers in a category – those who use, and hence purchase, in the category the most. An example Chart of the Week from the Fast Casual Restaurants category reveals that these all-important heavy users tend to be male, age 18 to 34, higher income and have children in the household.



Finally, TBSM also captures Brand Preference as one component of the survey. Brand Preference is the gold-standard metric for assessing a brand’s strength in the hearts and minds of consumers. In fact, independent studies conducted by the Marketing Accountability Standards Board (MASB) have found that preference proved to be a better fit to market share than any other standard research question examined. Brand preference has been adopted as the cornerstone of all MSW research systems due to this strong relationship with market share. Several of our Charts of the Week illustrate the utility of brand preference in different applications.

First, results from the Fast Casual Restaurants category illustrates the utility of brand preference as a proxy for market share and hence an unparalleled measure of brand strength. As the following scatterplot shows, the brand preference penetration metric is strongly related to systemwide domestic sales levels for Fast Casual Restaurants (as published by Nation’s Restaurant News), with an overall correlation of +0.93.



Next, changes in brand preference are reflective of actual changes in business results for a brand. An example Chart of the Week illustrating this application is drawn from the Subscription Streaming Video Services category. In March of 2021, ViacomCBS expanded its CBS All Access service and rebranded it as Paramount+. In the extremely competitive and dynamic online video streaming services category, Paramount+ saw a 67% gain in brand preference in 2021 versus CBS All Access preference in the pre-pandemic time-period (last quarter of 2019). While ViacomCBS doesn’t separately report Paramount+ subscriber numbers, total ViacomCBS subscribers (which also includes Showtime and other services) jumped to 47 million in Q3 2021 versus 17.9 million in Q3 2020 and 10.4 million in Q3 2019. According to ViacomCBS, this surge in subscriptions was driven by strong growth in Paramount+ sign-ups.



In addition, brand preference can detect changes in brand strength attributable to marketing activity. This is illustrated by returning to the example of the effects of the 2022 Super Bowl advertising on brand preference for Cryptocurrency Exchanges. All four brands that advertised in the Super Bowl saw at least some level of positive movement in brand preference. FTX was the winner with a jump in brand preference of 2.6 percentage points.



Finally, brand preference levels can be examined by target groups, defined by dimensions such as demographics or usage level, to understand where a brand’s (and their competitors’) strengths lie. An example from our Chart of the Week series shows brand preference by usage level in the Domestic Airlines category. One insight from this chart is that discount airline Southwest has by far the highest preference level among light users. On the other hand, the brand’s preference level among heavy users is exceeded not only by the three traditional major airlines, but also by fellow discount brands JetBlue and Alaska.



These are but some of the many applications of the data provided by the TBSM tracking service. We look forward to sharing more such insights in the coming year. In the meantime, have a Happy New Year!

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