Subway tops consumer perception ranking

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Taco Bell was among the brands that made the biggest improvements in consumer perceptions this year, and other restaurants will have to keep generating positive news to keep up with gains they made during the recession, according to a recent study from YouGov BrandIndex.

An analysis of the top average “Buzz" scores for the first half of 2012 showed heavy advertisers like Subway and Wendy’s making positive impressions with consumers. At the same time, smaller chains with less robust marketing budgets also gained ground by trying new tactics and executing within their restaurants.

“With heavier advertising and new-product promotions, restaurants brought their game up an order of magnitude,” said Ted Marzilli, senior vice president of New York-based BrandIndex. “It will become harder to build on those higher scores.”

BrandIndex calculates its proprietary Buzz score by surveying thousands of American consumers each weekday and asking, “If you’ve heard anything about this brand in the past two weeks, through advertising, news or word-of-mouth, was it positive or negative?” Negative scores are subtracted from positive ones, and a moving average is calculated on a scale of negative 100 to positive 100, with a score of zero denoting a neutral perception of the brand.

Subway wins by a mile

Subway maintained a significantly large lead over its quick-service competitors in average Buzz score, with its 41.7 rating far outpacing No. 2 brand Wendy’s, which had a Buzz score of 28.5. Subway’s constant, consistent advertising helped widen the gap, Marzilli said, but Buzz scores also incorporate more than commercials.

“Scale and sheer amount of advertising are important, but people do or will tune out ads if the campaigns become stale,” Marzilli said. “Subway promotes a particular sub or breakfast any given week and keeps things fresh. … Buzz is also about word-of-mouth and personal experience, so if you continue to satisfy and delight customers, that helps with our Buzz scores.”

Papa John’s and Pizza Hut were the No. 3 and No. 4 best-buzzed brands in the first half of 2012, Marzilli said, garnering scores of 26.5 and 25.9, respectively.

He also noted that Chick-fil-A scored the fifth-highest average Buzz score of 20.7 despite a smaller base of stores in the United States — about 1,600 units. A big part of that is Chick-fil-A’s very devoted following among consumers and its reputation for service, which overcomes the fact that the brand advertises far less than the big sandwich and pizza chains, Marzilli said.

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