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The Chicken War Continues to Heat Up: Which Ads Are Consumers Hungry For?

June 2, 2021

Despite the effects of the pandemic beginning to ease, many people are still sticking to the habits they formed during lockdown; wearing sweatpants during the day, moving the coffee table for at-home workouts, and opting for the speed and convenience of fast food.

Fast food continues to be an ever-popular choice among Americans and with the increased prevalence and production value of QSR advertising showing perfectly crispy chicken nestled between two impossibly fluffy buns, who can blame them! Overall, it’s estimated that online spending on chicken sandwiches grew 4X in 2020.

QSR’s have been battling it out over the crowded chicken sandwich landscape, now dubbed the “Chicken Wars”, and have been gaining speed in recent months. Established players like McDonald’s, KFC, and Wendy’s have been fighting off smaller SOV competitors Popeye’s and Chick-Fil-A looking to take a bite out of the market.

We used our industry-leading in-market measurement solution, Phoenix Brand Effect, to break down the performance of these ads and see if we can identify a leader in the flock.*

Although McDonald’s “From the Makers” and KFC’s “Chicken Business” ads have the most recall (Ad Memorability), Wendy’s “The End of the Chicken Wars” and Sonic’s “The Way it Should Be” blow them both out of the water when it comes to branding. Sonic’s high performance for Brand Linkage is surprising, given that they only put a fraction of the GRP behind their advertising compared to Wendy’s. This suggests that while fewer people may have viewed Sonic’s ad, those that did see it remembered the brand associated with it.

However, in terms of overall ad performance (Brand Memorability), KFC emerges as the leader with a narrow lead over Wendy’s. While Wendy’s had slightly better branding, KFC’s ad was more memorable, which is likely what earned them the top slot.

Interestingly, Chick-Fil-A’s “Little Things – Jade and Will” ad falls at the bottom of the category, with low scores for recall, branding, and breakthrough. However, this low performance could be attributed to the fact that once the larger players joined the game, smaller SOV brands like Chick-Fil-A and Popeye’s had a much harder time standing out to consumers.

*Please note that these findings are based on ads at the individual level, not on an aggregate brand total. Some of these brands produced multiple ads for their “chicken sandwich” campaign, but we based our data on the best-performing ad from each brand, taking into account general sample and program GRP.

If you would like information on how these campaigns performed on a brand level, or for additional insights into the why’s behind the performance of these ads, contact us!



Phoenix Brand Effect is the gold standard for in-market performance and can provide real-world, real-time, in-flight ad measurement to help you establish a baseline for future campaigns. Looking to bridge the gap between pre-market creative development and in-market tracking? Our newly-developed AdPi-Brand Effect Platform offers clients a seamless solution to maximize ad performance using creative diagnostics (AdPi®) to generate forward-looking estimates to understand your creative’s full in-market performance potential (Brand Effect).

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