Want to get teens in your restaurant? Make them laugh

April 16, 2014 | by Alicia Kelso

I recently had the chance to ask my 14-year-old niece why she never liked or posted anything on Facebook. Her response was, "People (her age group) don't like Facebook anymore. They don't want to be on the same social media sites their parents are on."

Fair enough. Socializing with your parents has never been cool at age 14, even if it's in a virtual setting.

So, I asked her where the kids are these days (showing my age, perhaps) and where she would go to interact with her favorite restaurant brands (she's into Starbucks, as is apparently everyone else her age, according to a new report from Piper Jaffray).

She said Instagram, Snapchat, and her classmates all love iFunny and are on it "all the time." iFunny isn't a social media channel, but it has a viral influence nonetheless — many of the humorous pictures, memes, videos and gifs you see on Facebook or Instagram originate on the app.

And perhaps it provides a clue of sorts. Restaurant brands that are aiming their giant marketing budgets at the younger millennials should go for humor; humor communicated in a visual format.

Granted, "humor" is a broad definition, but these kids are gravitating toward the stuff that has viral power; stuff that is sharable and that even us old folks can laugh at. They like gifs that show a sleepy baby trying to "survive a Monday," and "Jackass-like" videos of someone falling or getting hit in the face with a football. They like it when people respond to teacher's questions sarcastically. They like funny animal pictures and Grumpy Cat and creative "promposals."

So while reports show that Starbucks is the clear favorite for this demographic, other brands seem to be going all out to gain teen spirit as well. Have you seen KFC's "promposal" video? It features a guy wooing his prom date with a corsage made from a drumstick. The KFC Chicken Corsage is actually a real thing, sold for $20 by Louisville, Ky.-based florist Nanz & Kraft.

The brand is promoting the corsage with a commercial that has been viewed nearly 500K times on YouTube in less than a week. The idea of a chicken corsage alone is funny, but the commercial? I'd say it's iFunny-worthy.


KFC's sister brand Taco Bell also seems to be embracing an "over-the-top" spin to get teens' attention. The company is, after all, giving away Waffle Taco pajamas. It also just announced its newest Doritos Locos Taco exclusively on Snapchat.

Is the focus on this niche worth it for brands? Piper Jaffray's new report shows that for the first time in the survey's 11-year history, teens now spend more on food than they do on clothing. In other words, yes.

The brands they are gravitating toward include Starbucks, McDonald's, Chipotle, Olive Garden and Taco Bell.

Among their slightly older, 20-something millennial counterparts, brand preferences change somewhat. According to new research from Goldman Sachs, Starbucks is still the favorite, but the popularity of McDonald's wanes, with just over 2 percent visiting the chain in the past year.

My niece tells me that she and her classmates like Starbucks because it's like a status symbol of sorts, not because it's churning out funny videos or novel products. A Frappuccino, in other words, can alleviate some of the social pressure instigated by the general cruelty of high school. The company may have that market cornered.

But Goldman Sachs' research shows that 20-somethings also like Dunkin' Donuts, Chipotle, Domino's and Papa John's. Millennial preferences are all over the map.

The indication from both of these reports (and my unscientific research from conversing with my niece) is that there is no blanket solution to appealing to the vast demographic. Which brand will win the coveted millennial dollar? It depends on if the customer wants to laugh or simply prove they belong.

Alicia Kelso is senior editor of QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com.

Topics: Marketing / Branding / Promotion , Online / Mobile / Social , Trends / Statistics

Alicia Kelso / Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.
View Alicia Kelso's profile on LinkedIn

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