Fast Food OOH Advertising – Then Vs. Now

A McDonald's billboard ad with a red background and the logo in the corner, with the text "I'm lovin it".

Fast food restaurants are a worldwide multi-billion dollar industry. It’s affordable , reliable, and tastes great for the price.  OOH advertising is the perfect way to showcase fast food restaurants as local passersby and tourists alike can view the ads and use the opportunity to grab breakfast, lunch, or dinner if they are in a rush, or just looking for a quick bite to eat. Bright colors, bold text, and delicious looking food are what OOH advertising in the fast food industry is all about. However, over the years the way these advertisements are showcased has changed quite a lot. This article will showcase the evolution of OOH advertising over the decades by the most well-known fast food companies and how they affected brand awareness, consumer engagement, and sales.

McDonald’s

McDonald’s is famous for their cheap and delicious burgers, fries, and many other fast food items. Anyone who sees the bright red colors and golden arch resembling the letter ‘M’ immediately knows that they are looking at a McDonald’s sign. The company has been able to capture a loyal following and create brand awareness with their bold colors and slogan. The picture below was taken in 1974, showcasing the familiar golden arch as well as text that says, ‘Over 10 billion sold’, which is a message the company has been using for many years to demonstrate how popular they are. This signage had been used for decades, shaping the way that fast food is marketed and sold to consumers. What makes McDonald’s OOH advertising stand out is their loyal brand following – they’ve created a marketing scheme that’s not only recognizable by all, but has also become synonymous with comfort and familiarity to tourists and locals alike.

One of the first McDonald's opened, the golden arch with a red background and text "McDonald's Hamburgers over 10 billion sold".

Modern McDonald’s billboards look similar to the older ones, with their bright red and yellow colors and the trademark golden arch that no passerby could possibly miss. However, a big difference in their new OOH advertising campaigns is the quirky texts that they’ve included so that consumers will be even more drawn to stopping by their drive-thru or going inside to grab a quick bite to eat. The below billboards are part of the ‘Follow the Arches’ campaign in Toronto, created in order to signal passersby that there’s a McDonald’s near them and that they should stop by right away. The coolest part of these billboards is that the golden arches show directions with text saying, ‘On your right’, ‘On your left’, ‘Just missed us’, and ‘Next Exit’, to make it easy to find. What makes these billboards stand out is that they’re extremely minimalistic yet anyone could easily recognize that they’re McDonald’s ads because of their successful brand building over the years. 

Four McDonald's billboards with red backgrounds and parts of the golden arch on each, saying "on your left", "just missed us", "on your right", and "next exit".

Wendy’s

Wendy’s is a well-recognized fast food chain founded in 1969. Their logo showcases a girl with red hair, braids, and a big smile. The below image is the second ever Wendy’s to open in 1970. The billboard in front of the store says, ‘Wendy’s a treat you can’t beat’, which is a catchy phrase that the company used to attract customers to their newly opened location. The slogan on the store is, ‘Chill and frosty’, which is something the company later became famous for. Wendy’s is known for their blue and red logo with signs saying, ‘Old fashioned hamburgers’, which the company has kept from the beginning to create international brand awareness. Another cool thing about this old Wendy’s restaurant is their innovative pick-up window that included a separate grill so that people could grab their food in an even faster and more efficient manner than before. For the 70s, this style of advertisement attracted many customers and created a brand that would soon become known internationally for their delicious burgers, frosty desserts, and more.

One of the first Wendy's restaurants with a sign saying "Wendy's old fashioned hamburgers".

In recent years, Wendy’s decided to use OOH advertising to get ahead of their biggest rivals and showcase their brand in a more interesting way. The company used digital out-of-home advertising (DOOH) in Times Square to create a massive billboard campaign that would attract millions of passersby. The purpose of the campaign was to demonstrate Wendy’s new breakfast menu by showcasing a rivalry competition between themselves and other fast food chains. The enormous billboard had tweets against a bold red background of the company making jabs at McDonald’s and Burger King with comments such as, “Best thing about McDonald’s breakfast is that if you don’t eat the biscuit immediately you can wait two hours and use it to break a window”, and, “Wendy’s is making breakfast now, meanwhile Burger King is still trying to figure out this whole ‘lunch’ thing everyone’s talking about”, demonstrating the friendly rivalry between the different fast food chains. This campaign was a huge success because it created brand awareness by drawing attention to Wendy’s while also convincing consumers to buy from them instead of their competition with their new breakfast line.

A digital Wendy's billboard in Times Square with tweets taking jabs at competitor McDonald's.

Burger King

Burger King is another fast food chain restaurant famous internationally for their cheap yet delicious meals. The company emerged after McDonald’s, hoping to be their biggest rival, which they did end up succeeding at as the years went on. The below image showcases the first ever Burger King restaurant with the slogan, ‘Home of the Whopper’, which is a famous slogan that the company uses to advertise their most famous product. It’s interesting to see that this Burger King logo looks very different from the one that is used today. The old logo appears to be showing a boy holding a burger in a monotone and muted font. Perhaps it was the reinvention of the company brand that would eventually lead to its huge success in the fast food market as of today.

The first Burger King location with a sign out front saying "Burger King home of the Whopper".

The current Burger King logo includes bright yellow, blue, and red colors that can be spotted from a distance and recognized internationally. A fun advertisement campaign that the company did recently, was to make jabs at their biggest rival, McDonald’s. The below image showcases a massive billboard with a bright yellow background, the Burger King logo in the corner, a delicious looking burger, and a text saying, “The secret Whopper only available at McDonald’s”. This was an interesting way to reach consumers and build brand loyalty as most people know that the Whopper is a Burger King special and by creating this billboard the company was able to showcase their rivalry in a fun and innovative way. The advertising campaign’s goal was to increase their app’s downloads by building brand awareness as McDonald’s has more than half the number of restaurants as Burger King in the United States. So, the company wanted to reward their customers for driving past McDonald’s to get to a Burger King restaurant instead. The more McDonald’s restaurants they passed the more perks they would get on the app and the more sales Burger King would eventually get.

A Burger King billboard with a hamburger, yellow background and text "The Secret Whoppers only at McDonald's".

Final Words

This article assessed several different fast food chains over the decades and the conclusion seems to be that changing market trends have a great impact on the way these companies created their OOH advertisements. Using different text, colors, slogans, and more, these fast food restaurants have adapted to the new and emerging trends over the years. It’s interesting to see how the advertising world evolves through the decades, especially in the fast food industry, as these companies will be around for many more years to come and will always be evolving and creating new ways to captivate their audience. Consumers who buy fast food want to know that they’re getting the tastiest yet most economic options available and these companies are able to showcase their products in the best way possible using OOH advertising. With huge billboards, posters, and truck-side ads proving to be a success in the industry,it’s no wonder that fast food companies are willing to invest millions of dollars into OOH advertising.

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