Would you like a salad with your soy burger?

Summer is like Christmas to the US$105 billion a year North American fast food industry - it normally takes pleasure in a 20% uptick in sales during the season. So it's no surprise that innovative dishes and promotions are lighting up menu boards faster than orders can be filled at the drive-thru.

Alvin Wasserman, President, CD, senior copywriter

Wasserman & Partners Advertising, Vancouver, B.C.

McDonald’s did a pretty good job on that whole salad introduction. I think the strategy is to get to the empty order. For instance, mom would come in and order, but not for herself, because God forbid she eats anything at McDonald’s. They’re not repositioning that they’re a healthy place. They just want to fill up that empty space on the tray, because eventually she could convince the kids to go somewhere else.

The spots are healthy without being too health-obsessed. Even though the jogging ad is targeted at women, it [stars] guys. I think that was smart. Sometimes targeting right on hurts.

In general, I think there’s a lot of sameness [in QSR advertising]. [The ads are] very music-driven, price being a big issue, and then there’s a quick food shot at the end. In Vancouver, we get some spills from Jack in the Box. They use humour really well. [The chain] went heavier [with product], instead of lighter, which I think is amazing. In one ad, Jack is dumping a single hamburger onto a backend truck. It’s like a truck commercial and has a sense of parody, in that it’s heavy duty. It actually has a storyline and it’s refreshing.

Noel O’Dea, president

Target Marketing & Communications, St. John’s, Nfld.

[QSRs] have such large budgets for media advertising and production that you’d expect much better quality work. I notice that McDonald’s is reported to be spending $15 million to $20 million on the new healthier menu launch. I can’t believe the advertising is so forgettable.

The QSR category is like a sea of sameness in advertising. It’s almost like the inspiration is Father Knows Best from the 1950s, with unreal people in unreal settings that don’t reflect who the customers are.

[As for food shots] the less ordinary the item, the more important it is for the advertising to educate people. That doesn’t mean you remove any reward for the potential customer. You have to give them a reason to watch the ad.

The A&W advertising is distinctive in that it doesn’t look like Pizza Hut with a lot of appetite food shots. For the re-introduction of Chubby Chicken, the storyline was built around sending samples by mail. That’s very un-McDonald’s-ish.

Moving into healthier menus – I find that it’s a tough area for QSRs to enter. Maybe it’s because healthy fast food is an oxymoron. I think Wendy’s has been consistent in standing for freshness and value. They don’t engage in price promotions and bribes to get people into stores. They rely on brand value and a menu profile that they have consistently built over time, and they maintain the folksy self-deprecating attitude developed with Dave [Thomas] over the years.

Brian Howlett, partner and associate CD

Axmith McIntyre Wicht, Toronto, Ont.

Some of the ads are just about ‘Let’s show the latest menu item and hope enough people want to eat it. We’re not really trying to build the brand here.’ Harvey’s, with the spot where they’re trying to wrap the food in duct tape, is trying to break out of the mould of just showing a flame-broiled burger for 30 seconds.

I find, as a consumer, that menu lines are blurring into each other. DQ offers burgers and ice cream, McDonald’s offers burgers and ice cream. I go to Harvey’s and they have salads. Chubby Chicken from A&W – isn’t that KFC? It’s all overlapping. Where does it end?

In today’s very competitive environment where everyone’s trying to offer more choice, the net result is that it’s blurring for the consumer. There’s no strict separation between what the places offer. It would be good for the consumer to have each of them present a clear and focused message to the marketplace.

Maybe DQ has the most defined category, because they still stress their ice cream products, and they’re not spending time talking about their burgers. Subway has been brilliant because all they stress is six grams of fat in their sandwiches, but you can still go in and get a meatball sub, chips and fresh cookies.

With Burger King, there isn’t really a storyline there; they just have an opening shot with burger as hero, and then they go to the Men in Black II [promo], which is very hard for creative people. You have to feature this new burger, but also a promotional tie-in. Your hands are tied, and it becomes formulaic.

KFC also does movie tie-ins, but it’s always with a lesser movie. Kids are smart. If you’re marketing a bucket of chicken and tying into a tier-two movie, that might be more hurtful to the brand.

Karyn Bigby, corporate promotions executive

Orchard International, Mississauga, Ont.

I think McDonald’s and Burger King are leaders [in kid premiums]. [But] right now, McDonald’s has a promotion, Country Bears, which does not appeal to a broad age. For example, Burger King had a promo on The Backstreet Boys, featuring not just toys but also CDs, which appeal to the teen market as well. Dairy Queen did Scooby Doo and I think that’s great because kids were interested in that, but it also appealed to teens, and for nostalgic reasons, to older adults, who maybe passed that on to their kids.

It’s also a big draw if the collectible items function together to make one big item [prompting frequent visits]. Nobody has done that recently, but McDonald’s has in the past. For instance, for a tie-in with the movie Inspector Gadget, the spy toy pieces made a big Inspector Gadget.