As a restaurant owner, you probably know that you need to have some sort of marketing plan. Coming up with and executing that plan can be a real challenge, however – particularly when you are already swamped doing the day-to-day work of actually running your business.
One of the best ways to come up with ideas for advertising is by looking towards successful ad campaigns. While you may not have a McDonald’s budget, you can still take inspiration from these iconic ads. We have rounded up some of our top choices for the best restaurant ads of all time to inspire you.
Based in Michigan, Budget Branders works with small to medium-sized businesses throughout the United States to help them get the promotional items that they need at a fair price. We offer a full line of high-quality disposable products, each of which can be custom printed with your business name, logo, and more. Reach out today to talk to a member of our branding team about how we can help your restaurant thrive.
Types of Restaurant Ads
Based on your restaurant’s budget and your creativity, you may utilize:
- Social media ads, including high-quality photos, videos, and coupons or specials
- Targeted online advertisements, such as through online directories and a Google My Business Profile
- Video content on sites like YouTube
- Digital and traditional billboards
- Signs on buses, at bus stops, or other places in your community.
- Branded items, such as plastic take-out cups, sandwich wrappers, or paper bags for take-out
- Signage outside of your restaurant
- Newspaper and/or magazine ads, including local magazines
- Radio advertisements
While there are a lot of challenges with social media and the internet generally (such as getting a flood of unfair negative reviews), it does present a lot of opportunities for independently-owned restaurants to advertise. It is possible to market your business for free or for very little money through a savvy social media strategy, for example. You can also use your marketing dollars to purchase branded promotional items or create an Instagram-worthy backdrop in your restaurant so that your patrons do your advertising for you.
19 Great Restaurant Ads
Over the past several decades, restaurants have gotten really creative when it comes to ads. While many establishments can lure customers with simple ads featuring beautiful photos of their food, others chose to break through the noise with something a little more unique. The result can be a truly memorable ad that sticks in customers’ minds for years. Below, we have ranked the top 19 restaurant ads of all time.
Wendy’s: Where’s The Beef?
One of the most iconic television commercials of all time, the Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef” ad came out in 1984. It featured three older women examining a large hamburger bun before lifting the lid to find a tiny burger, prompting her to ask the famous question. This ad was directed at McDonald’s and Burger King, which sold burgers that were much bigger than Wendy’s offerings – or at least, the buns were bigger! “Where’s the beef” became a catchphrase that you may still hear almost 40 years later.
McDonald’s Menu Song
In the late 1980s, McDonald’s ran a promotion featuring its menu as a rap song. The company distributed approximately 80 million records featuring a teacher asking a class to repeat the song after him. If someone got a record that did not contain any mistakes, they could win $1,000,000. The contest was later referenced in a separate commercial, and the menu song remains iconic for many millennials decades after the ad first aired.
Panda Express’ Good Fortune
Panda Express, a Chinese restaurant chain, has long played off of its association with fortune cookies. In 2015, it ran a feel-good ad titled “Where Good Fortune Smiles.” Today, the company continues to use the concept with promotions like “good fortune” scratch-off tickets to celebrate Lunar New Year.
Chili’s Baby Back Ribs
In 1997, Chili’s came out with an ad that featured an incredibly catchy jingle about its featured menu item: baby back ribs. If you’re of a certain age, you can probably still sing the tune: I want my baby-back-baby-back-baby-back I-want-my-baby-back-baby-back-baby-back CHILIII’S BABY BACK RIBS…BARBECUE SAAAUUUCE.” This ad was such a success that it appeared in the Austin Powers 2 movie – and N*Sync even did a version of the jingle during the height of their popularity.
Legal Sea Foods’ Reservation Ad
Seafood chain Legal Sea Foods ran an incredibly successful ad campaign in 2010. The media assets featured a rustic look commonly associated with fishing signs. Perhaps the most iconic graphic made a play on the saying “Teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime” to encourage customers to make reservations.
Domino’s Avoid the Noid
In the 1980s, Domino’s came out with a memorable campaign involving commercials, print ads, and even a computer game to popularize its “30 minutes or less” delivery promise. In the ads, a cartoon man known as the “Noid” tried to deliver pizzas quickly, but his efforts were thwarted. The ads encouraged customers to “avoid the Noid” by ordering from Domino’s instead. The Noid re-appeared in a new string of recent commercials to promote Domino’s new driverless delivery service.
Yo Quiero Taco Bell
In the late 1990s, Taco Bell introduced a chihuahua as its mascot (known as the “Taco Bell Chihuahua”). The dog made sense as a mascot, given that chihuahuas are commonly associated with Mexico – and Taco Bell serves Mexican food. The dog had a catchphrase of “Yo quiero Taco Bell,” which quickly became a pop culture phenomenon. In fact, the Taco Bell Chihuahua was so iconic that toy figurines of the dog were produced, and the phrase was used broadly in other contexts.
Popeye’s Love That Chicken Jingle
Popeye’s is a fast-food restaurant chain that originated in New Orleans. Unsurprisingly, when it was time to come up with a jingle, the company went with a jazz-style song that featured the phrase “love that chicken from Popeyes.” The song was such a hit that it is used in advertisements to this day – and it is considered an ear worm!
McDonald’s “The Showdown”
During the 1993 Super Bowl, McDonald’s introduced a commercial that has gone down in history as one of the best Super Bowl ads of all time. The commercial featured basketball superstars and rivals Michael Jordan and Larry Bird playing a game of H.O.R.S.E., with the winner getting a Big Mac. The Showdown remains a top commercial to this day.
Arby’s We Have the Meats
Arby’s heyday may have passed, but in 2014, it introduced a new tagline – “We Have the Meats” – that it still uses to this day. The tagline, voiced by actor Ving Rhames, was meant to entice younger customers and to emphasize that they have a range of different meats (instead of just roast beef). While Arby’s doesn’t have the market share of top competitors like McDonald’s or Chik-Fil-A, many people still automatically think “We have the meats” when they see an Arby’s restaurant.
Dunkin’ Donuts’ Time to Make the Donuts
In the 1980s, Dunkin’ Donuts released a commercial that captured customers’ hearts. The main character, Fred the Baker, would say the phrase “Time to make the donuts” every morning as he got up before dawn. The ad was designed to show that – unlike grocery stores – Dunkin’ Donuts made their baked goods fresh every day. It was simple, memorable, and effective.
Quiznos’ Singing Rodents
Sometimes, weird is the way to go if you want to make a splash. In the early 2000s, sandwich chain Quiznos decided to go extra odd with commercials featuring singing rodents who encouraged customers to visit the shop. The strange-looking rodents also introduced the idea that the shop had a pepper bar where patrons could add their own peppers – a phrase that stuck in many people’s minds as it was so unusual.
Chipotle’s “Roll” Ads
In 2014 – before marijuana was more widely legalized – Chipotle released a print ad that was controversial for the time. The ad featured stark black text on a white background that stated, “Usually when you roll something this good, it’s illegal” over an image of a foil-wrapped burrito. The graphic also contained Chipotle’s logo with the words “Gourmet burritos. Seriously addictive” beneath. The controversy generated by the ad – as well as its callout to marijuana culture – made it very successful.
Nando’s Finger Selfies
South African chicken chain Nando’s Peri Peri ran a great ad campaign that showed the power of social media. Nando’s printed napkins with different illustrations, and then encouraged customers to draw a face on their fingers, and post a “finger selfie” on social media for a chance to win a year of free Nando’s. The results were both hilarious and effective.
Panera’s Boy meets World Reboot
After a really difficult year in 2020, a lot of Americans were looking for comfort and nostalgia in 2021. Panera capitalized on this moment by bringing back Boy Meets World’s Topanga and Cory for a great Valentine’s Day ad to launch its new flatbread pizzas. The commercial was cheesy, but it was also perfect for the time.
Denny’s Twitter Account
It isn’t exactly an ad, but Denny’s Twitter account is a great example of how great social media managers can make a huge difference for a brand. From feuding with IHOP to mocking Diplo to posting completely irrelevant content, Denny’s not only got a lot of news coverage, but it inspired a lot of brand loyalty, too.
Tim Horton’s Dark Bus
Canadian coffee and donuts chain Tim Horton’s introduced a dark roast brew in 2014. To promote the coffee, Tim Horton’s went with a unique advertisement: a black bus. The company wrapped a Toronto transit bus in black, complete with a #TimsDark hashtag. The bus even offered samples of the new drink in between stops.
IHOP Becomes IHOB
To celebrate the addition of burgers to the IHOP menu, the brand created an ad campaign around a fake rebrand to the International House of Burgers. The rebrand was initially announced on Twitter and went viral with many speculating whether or not the brand was actually going to be changing its name. The tweet was later followed up with commercials, print ads, and a full social media campaign. IHOP remained IHOB for about a month before changing the brand’s name back to IHOP across the internet. In that month, IHOP was able to successfully get thousands of people to start talking about pancakes and burgers.
It’d be hard to have a list of the best restaurant ads without including Subway’s Jared. Jared Fogle was an Indiana University student who lost 245 lbs between 1998 and 1999. As part of his diet plan, Jared frequented Subway and credited the sandwich chain for much of his weight loss. After hearing Jared’s story, Subway hired Jared to become a spokesperson for the company a year later. Jared’s story became a hit and he was featured in over 300 commercials in the 15 years he worked as the chain’s spokesperson.
Grow Restaurant Sales With The Most Cost-Effective Form Of Advertising
Running a restaurant requires financial savvy and the ability to cook and serve great food. It also requires a fair bit of business acumen – including the ability to properly market your establishment to draw in customers. An advertising campaign that uses a variety of methods can be incredibly effective.
At Budget Branders, we understand the demands that small business owners face in today’s economy. Our goal is to make it as easy – and budget-friendly – as possible to get high-quality branded disposable products for your business. When you add custom disposables to your marketing plan, you will see a lot of “bang for your buck,” especially given Budget Branders’ low prices. Branded disposables like custom plastic cups and custom coffee sleeves will be one of the most cost-effective forms of advertising your business ever invests in.
If you’d like to learn more or to request a quote, contact us today by pressing the live chat button, or sending us a message online.