Fast-food franchises harness TikTok celebrities, Twitch stars, and other social media influencers

LarissaMachado, Burger King

Internet buzzes with boosts for Burger King, McDonald’s, Dunkin’, Chipotle, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut

For decades companies have benefited from celebrity endorsements in TV and print advertisements. For instance, Matthew McConaughey hawks cars and Liev Schreiber plugs mattresses. Subway uses sports super-stars, at least one of them controversial, in its Eat Fresh Refresh ad campaign. But fast-food franchise brands increasingly team with TikTok celebrities and other new media stars and influencers to gain traction with younger customers.   

The move makes sense. YPulse reported that 49% of 13- to 39-year-olds have purchased an item promoted by an online celebrity. TikTok, YouTube – which vaulted Justin Bieber to fame and fortune – and Twitch, a live-streaming platform for gamers, all have participants with legions of followers. Here’s how some fast-food brands have put cyberspace celebs in their corners, per YPulse and Forbes: 

Rapper Travis Scott drove McDonald’s sales up with his $6 signature meal —.a medium Sprite, a quarter pounder with bacon, and fries with barbecue sauce
Twitch streamer JERICHO hosts Pizza Hut’s Friday Night Bites’ live gaming series.
  • Latecomer Burger King joined the party on Sept. 12 of this year. The fast-food giant’s Keep It Real promotion stars Nelly, Lil Huddy and Anitta (top photo). Here’s the shtick that makes it fun: The promotion uses the celebs’ real names as it promotes the ban of 120 artificial ingredients. The combos are the Cornell Haynes Jr. Meal, named after rapper-songwriter Nelly and featuring a loaded Whopper as its centerpiece; the Chase Hudson Meal, aligned with influencer Lil Huddy and spotlighting the Spicy Ch’King; and the Larissa Machado Meal, singer Anitta’s offering of the Impossible Whopper plus accompaniments. 
  • Last fall, rapper Travis Scott made a splash with his McDonald’s deal. The Travis Scott Meal, his golden arches go-to order that includes a Quarter-Pounder with bacon. Scott’s record label, Cactus Jack, upped the ante with cross-promotions of clothing, lunch boxes and more. McDonald’s reported a sales bump of 4.6%.
  • Also last fall, Dunkin’ hitched its brand to the stardom of dancer Charli D’Amelio, creating The Charli, a whole milk and caramel swirl cold-brew beverage. D’Amelio racked up millions of views on TikTok after she shared content of herself ordering the drink and participating in a dance challenge with it in her hand. Dunkin’ told YPulse it sold “hundreds of thousands” of the drinks within five days of the content posting and a 57% boost in-app downloads.   
  • Chipotle went viral in December 2020 with an informal TikTok challenge involving singer-actor Miley Cyrus, who interacted with many challengers; during the TikTok series, one post gathered 189,900 views. Then Chipotle partnered with 23-year-old singing-songwriting phenom Shawn Mendes on a menu item available through digital ordering. For each bowl ordered for two weeks, the restaurant pledged $1 to the Shawn Mendes Foundation, which gives grants to young change-makers who advance sustainability. 
  • Wendy’s Never Stop Gaming menu offered custom meals associated with high-profile Twitch streamers. During the promotion last December, each meal ordered from the special Uber Eats menu entitled diners to a chance to win gamer-themed prizes such as hoodies and state-of-the-art gaming consoles. Twitch has 40 million American viewers each month, with about 75% of them aged 34 or younger and 41% of them 16 to 24, according to Forbes. The campaign helped Wendy’s push its chicken sandwich, trying to siphon customers away from Popeye’s smash-hit version.
  • Pizza Hut also partnered with Twitch. Its Friday Night Bites hosted by streamer JERICHO (with more than a million Twitch followers) started in late November 2020. Online celebrities, influencers and gamers joined in pizza-themed challenges and revealed their favorite orders from the pizza chain. Pizza Hut credited the first five episodes with attracting more than 1 million live viewers. Pizza Hut gave out gift cards to chat with participants during the promotion.

Considering the success of these campaigns, it’s a safe bet that you’ll see more of them. Many, many more. They’ll be, like, viral. 

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Mary Vinnedge is an award-winning writer who has served as editor in chief, managing editor and senior editor at national and regional publications, including SUCCESS and Design NJ magazines. A seasoned journalist, Mary covers the latest industry news in her role as staff writer for FranchiseWire
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