Starbucks garnered a media-buy purchase equivalent of $67.8 million in free brand exposure through online news media, social media and Twitter between September and November 2010, placing it at the top of online media impact value rankings in the first Fast Food Industry Media Value Report from media measurement technology firm General Sentiment.
The firm uses a technology platform based on natural language processing and sentiment analysis software, combined with Web site traffic and online news readership data, to track the volume of brand mentions and analyze the sentiments expressed. Its volume-oriented "impact value" rankings use free-exposure media value estimates (equivalent paid advertising value) based on overall brand reach and a "sentiment" level that assigns scale-based positive values to all mentions. (The impact media value reflects an "all news is good news" orientation.)
A separate "perception value" metrics system represents more in-depth analysis of brands' quality of exposure, based on assigning values to positive and negative mentions and excluding neutral mentions.
For this first quarterly fast-food industry report, General Sentiment analyzed online media exposure for the largest QSR and fast-casual chains (as ranked by QSR Magazine) during the three months ending in November and the three prior months, for comparative purposes.
The impact value rankings for the September-November period show Starbucks garnering more than double the volume-oriented media value (MV) of second-and third-ranked McDonald's and Burger King (with respective impact MVs of $32.2 million and $25.8 million). Also within the impact rankings top 10 for the fall period, in order of their MV totals, were Chipotle Mexican Grill ($17 million), KFC ($15.5 million), Wendy's ($11.2 million), Pizza Hut ($10.8 million), Chick-fil-A ($8.1 million), Taco Bell ($7.6 million) and Cold Stone Creamery ($5.1 million).
Starbucks' nearly $68 million fall in MV actually represented a 20% decline compared to its June-August MV. The brand nevertheless drew exceptionally high levels of exposure in the fall quarter, driven by news coverage and social media/Twitter discussion of developments such as its legal dispute over retail products distribution with Kraft Foods and its expansion moves in China, General Sentiment CEO Gregory Artzt tells Marketing Daily.
McDonald's' fall-quarter buzz/coverage was driven by developments including San Francisco's decision to restrict toy premiums to "healthier" kids' meals and the chain's promotion of limited-time nationwide availability of its McRib sandwich, the firm reports.
Developments driving exposure levels for other top-impact chains during the fall included Burger King's expanded breakfast menu and giveaway of cups of Seattle's Best coffee on Fridays during November; Chipotle's record-high share price and announcement of plans to launch an Asian-style format in 2011; KFC's new scholarship program with Twitter; Wendy's mid-November introduction of its new natural-cut fries; and Pizza Hut's November value deal on two medium pizzas and its Twitter-based "10 Days of Thanks" prize promotion.
The firm also ranked restaurant brands by their gains or losses in perception value between the measured fall and summer periods, using MVs based on the quality-of-exposure method.
The list of perception "winners" consists of brands that showed the largest gains in perception media values (regardless of the size of their total perception MV dollar levels). In this ranking, Panera bread came out on top: Its perception-based media value exposure rose by $4.4 million (or nearly 93%), to reach $1.8 million during the fall period. Panera's positive exposure levels benefited from its completion of a nationwide rollout of a new customer loyalty program, MyPanera, according to the report.
Other chains that showed significant gains in positive perception value included relatively small chain Captain D's (which rose from a negative perception MV to $132,000 in positive exposure, based on adjusting its prices and expanding its menu); and Hardee's, whose perception value rose 37%, to total over $420,000 in the fall quarter, in part due to launching its own location-based app. The top 10 perception value gainers also included Schlotzsky's, Boston Market, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Krystal, Jersey Mike's, Wendy's and Jack in the Box.
Wendy's perception value rose by 16.4%, to total $1.9 million during the fall period. Not surprisingly, its exposure volume spiked, albeit briefly, after its Nov. 11 official launch of the natural-cut fries. However, its sentiment/perception level actually dipped for a time after the launch -- as a result of unavailability of the new fries in some locations -- before rising again as the fries became available in all locations, reports Artzt.
Chains seeing the largest declines in perception value between the summer and fall quarters included Taco Cabana, Jimmy John's, Krispy Kreme, Taco Bell, Whataburger, Starbucks, Domino's Pizza, Cold Stone Creamery, Freebirds World Burrito and Little Caesars.
Krispy Kreme registered a total perception value of $1 million for the fall, but that was down by $2 million compared to the summer. While the chain is showing improving financials, the perception trend in part reflects negative buzz about store closings, says Artzt.
Starbucks' perception value totaled $16.7 million for the fall, but that was $19.3 million lower than in the summer period. Negative buzz/coverage regarding the legal dispute with Kraft, as well as debate about the wisdom of the ambitious China expansion plans, contributed to this trend, according to Artzt.
Meanwhile, despite its massive, ongoing "Oh Yes We Did" rebranding campaign, Domino's had a perception value total of $46,000 in the fall, down by about $102,000 versus the summer. A contributing factor was the coverage/buzz surrounding a New York Times story casting negative light on funding of a campaign for a new, "cheesier" Domino's pizza offering through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dairy Management Inc. marketing arm, notes the report.
General Sentiment produces quarterly media value reports on the top-20 global online brands and weekly audience analysis reports on top prime-time television shows, as well as custom reports for brands.