The U.S. has the largest fast-food industry in the world and generates over $191 billion in annual sales.

Yet the number of adults consuming fast food daily has dropped over the last decade from 12.8% to 11.2%. Likely a result of increased digital knowledge and resources, the (slowly) declining number of fast-food consumers leaves the industry grasping for a way into the future.

Each emerging trend seems to push those in the fast food industry a little farther back, from the “obesity epidemic” to the war on soda. The inclusion of calorie counts was another blow to chains, causing the majority to face the harsh, unhealthy reality.

The reasons above caused the fast-food industry to seize a sort of Darwinian mentality: adapt to the societal changes or die at the feet of Chobani yogurt. Many took the opportunity to analyze and revise their brand image and messaging.

This shift caused brands to align with the popular concepts of “fresh” or “real” food. As the organic movement continued to grow, the fast-food industry needed a way to keep up. Luckily, they had a secret sauce of their own. Even as health food became more mainstream and integrated into daily life, the cheap convenience of fast food helped it hang on.

Lists such as “America’s Top 10 Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants” developed, establishing the positions of those that effectively listened to the public. Social media also provided a much needed outlet for brands to build up a voice and appeal to users in a new way, boosting traditional advertising.

So how do fast food chains continue to advertise to consumers who have access to all nutrition information at the tip of their typing fingers? Brands have responded in various ways, with some indulging the nutritiously defiant and others increasing transparency and healthy options. Strangely enough, both are seeing results.

Subway, for example, made the tagline “Eat Fresh” synonymous with their sandwich chain, as well as publicized the idea of losing weight on a “Subway Diet” (Jared, anyone?). They are currently the top fast food brand on social media. In an attempt to appeal to its health critics, McDonald’s revamped their menu offerings – including apples as an alternative to French fries in Happy Meals. They also made their calorie counts a prominent part of advertising, as shown below in their “Favorites under 400.”

Taco Bell, on the other hand, found a way to encourage the American public to eat more with the “fourth meal” campaign. Their recent reveal of Doritos Locos Tacos – shown below – also demonstrates the nutritious (less) freedom they feel in regard to their target audience – teenage boys and college students. This shows that there may always be customers who don’t follow the health herd.

taco bell

Just as the fast-food industry had to adapt to address evolving health concerns and trends, nearly every industry has been affected by the advancing digital age. Advertising was revolutionized for all with the integration of social media and new opportunities online – and it will remain a powerful influencer as brands make subsequent modifications.

Have any questions about advertising or digital marketing solutions? Contact ZOG Digital.