The top QSR coverage in 2023: How Dunkin’s Super Bowl Ad briefly took it to the top

February 16, 2023

Written by Benedict Nicholson

Dunkin’s Super Bowl ad was the talk of the town on Monday after it premiered its spot with Ben Affleck that saw the A-lister serving customers at a Dunkin’, with a guest appearance from his wife Jennifer Lopez. 

The ad’s success, and the amount of public interest it pulled in, inspired us to look back at the coverage of quick service restaurants this year so far, with a focus on some of the biggest players in the game: Burger King, McDonald’s, Chipotle, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ themselves.

These are all brands that are household names, but even when that level of fame is reached, the brands receive vastly different levels of media and public interest, unless there’s a huge motivating event like Dunkin’s Super Bowl ad.

For example, here’s a comparison of the media interest in each, looking at the number of articles written per day about each since the beginning of the year.

Graph comparing the media interest in Burger King, Dunkin, McDonald's Starbucks, and Chipotle in 2023

As the chart shows, the outright winner is McDonald’s with 20.3k articles written about the brand in the span of around six weeks. This was almost double the amount achieved by its nearest competitor Starbucks, which was written about around 10k times in the same period. If you look closely though, you can see a challenger rising in the last few days thanks to the Super Bowl, with a significant increase in coverage off the back of the ad. 

That rise is even more obvious when we look at public interest.

Graph comparing the public interest in Burger King, Dunkin, McDonald's Starbucks, and Chipotle in 2023

When it came to public interest, the Super Bowl commercial was enough to give the coffee chain the second most engagement, behind only McDonald’s. And you can see that in the last few days it has received significantly more daily engagement than any of its competitors have in the six weeks we looked at. 

What’s interesting is that while this was obviously driven by the Super Bowl, it had also happened at the beginning of January, thanks to two different narratives. The first was Affleck being spotted serving customers at the Medford location, which caused a peak in interest on January 10th as customers speculated about what he was doing there. 

The second, though, had nothing to do with Affleck, and instead focused on a human interest story about a longtime Dunkin’ customer being surprised by workers with a 95th birthday party. We’ve seen before the impact that workers setting a good example can have for a brand, and this was yet another example of that, carrying engagement with the brand’s coverage to more than 75k engagements for the day. 

But what drove engagement for each of the brands we looked at this year? Let’s take a deeper look. 

McDonald’s coverage featured its products and heartwarming stories 

Similarly to the Dunkin’ story about the long-time customer, the top story for McDonald’s was about an 81-year-old employee celebrating 42 years working at the restaurant, and quoted saying that her co-workers had been her family.

Chart showing the top ten articles about McDonald's in 2023, ranked by engagement

Beyond this story, the top pieces tended to be about the products available at stores, including Happy Meals, a strawless lid,  and potato scallops being sold for the first time. 

There was also a story about an unfortunate ad placement on a bus stop in the UK, but this was quickly resolved after attention was drawn to it. 

TikTok hacks dominate Chipotle’s coverage

Chipotle coverage saw much less engagement than its bigger rivals, with the top story only having 9,673 engagements compared to 50k for the likes of McDonald’s.

Chart showing the top ten articles about Chipotle in 2023, ranked by engagement

The coverage was dominated by TikTok, and secret menu items. Late last year, users of the short video platform had been sharing a hack for a cheesesteak quesadilla that made life so difficult for employees that they put up signs asking people not to order it. 

Rival chain Qdoba tried to use this to their advantage by proudly announcing that they would make it if Chipotle wouldn’t, but coverage of this was eventually trumped by Chipotle announcing that they would start offering it formally soon, which ended up being by far the top story. 

Starbucks coverage is broad and varied

More than any other brand in this list, the coverage of Starbucks was extremely varied in tone. Sometimes the brand was just used as little more than a location description, such as when Matthew Perry was spotted at a store, but sometimes the brand itself was the story.

Chart showing the top ten articles about Starbucks in 2023, ranked by engagement

This was the case for a couple in the US that were charged $4,500 for two cups of coffee due to a system error and had to postpone a vacation until it was sorted out. 

Its drink offerings also made the list of the top ten stories, with a Lavender Haze referencing Taylor Swift’s new music one of the top stories of 2023 so far. The top story, though, came from the UK and was about how much more caffeinated Costa Coffee’s cappuccinos are compared to the Starbucks version.

Burger King nostalgia was the talk of the town

Interestingly, old Burger King commercials were among the top stories about the brand in 2023 so far, as actors who participated in them shared their stories and watched them back.

Chart showing the top ten articles about Burger King in 2023, ranked by engagement

This was true for both Christopher Meloni and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Meloni was commenting on his performance in the commercials, while Gellar recalled being sued by McDonald’s at five years old over a Burger King spot. 

Beyond the nostalgia, the stories were quite varied, from new restaurants opening to employee stories. 

Dunkin’ wins big on Super Bowl bet, but it wasn’t the top story 

As we’ve already covered, the top narrative for Dunkin’ was its Super Bowl ad, but it wasn’t the top individual story overall. That honor belonged to the surprise birthday party that employees threw for a longtime customer.

Chart showing the top ten articles about Dunkin in 2023, ranked by engagement

While the top article about the Affleck commercial topped out at 42k engagements, the story about the birthday party garnered well over 100k engagements, showing the power of an individual story with the public even if it doesn’t get broader media pick-up. 

Of course, this is just a handful of brands, over a relatively short time frame, but it does give a good indication of the wide variety of narratives that can affect brands that are household names. 

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Benedict Nicholson

In addition to leading the NewsWhip Research Center in New York, Benedict Nicholson manages partnerships with internationally recognized media outlets furthering data journalism, which includes NewsWhip’s Data for Democracy program. Benedict also facilitates consultations with communicators from the top 10 public relations agencies across America and Europe and with Fortune 500 brands to discuss consumer engagement trends and effective media monitoring. Email Benedict via benedict.nicholson@newswhip.com.

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