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"Social Media ads for restaurants... do they even work?"

“Does it really work?”

“Why can’t we just use free posts?”

“We are posting every day and only get a few likes.”

“Do we have to be on Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram, and Snapchat, and *insert platform name here* ?”

“Does it make any difference in sales?”.

In the last 10 years of consulting the restaurant owners this was possibly the most common series of questions. It’s understandable. Social is a new medium for advertising. It is cluttered and accessible.  It can be almost free – or at least fairly affordable. But is it worth it? Does it really work?

This question may seem naïve to many of my friends entrenched in the world of large corporate chains. “But of course! Social and digital is a huge part of our strategy!”. Oh yes it is. But look closer. Even as advertising spend on digital continues to increase year over year among the legacy restaurant players, the social and digital spend continues to be just a fraction of a total advertising spend for those giant. Traditional media – TV, radio, print, and the unfortunately named OOH (that is, practically speaking, simply billboards) continues to take the lion share. In fact, the incredible growth of the social ad industry (in the foodservice space) is largely funded by the smaller brands and independents – the ones that don’t have the scale to reach the consumers via TV. So why is that the case?

In this series of blog articles I will do my best to answer these questions…. one at a time!

“Does it really work?”.

For each restaurant owner or brand, the answer depends somewhat on whether they personally believe that advertising works in general. If you are firmly in the exclusively WOM camp (“Word Of Mouth”) and believe that the restaurant promotion should come exclusively from positive reviews of your current customers and maybe a very light touch of PR, your answer is NO. It doesn’t work for you. WOM purists exist, they are rare, and some of them are amazing at using their personal network and community to make their businesses a complete success.

For the rest of us, and especially for the multi-unit restaurants, advertising is a part running a business. We print leaflets and leave them at nearby businesses to spread the word, we mail flyers to the local area residents to advertise the opening or the promotions,  we buy a quarter page ad in the free local community paper,  we rent a  billboard to point the way to our restaurant from the highway. And we wish we had the budget to do all of the above all year long.

But what’s the difference between placing your message in print and putting it out on social/digital media? Here is the only difference that matters: with digital you theoretically could understand and quantify whether your advertising worked.  With traditional you generally don’t. That’s the tremendous advantage of digital media. Remember that famous saying that “At least half of advertising in ineffective, but we don’t can’t figure out which half?”. With digital you can determine which part works. Even better, you can very quickly redirect your money from the message that is ineffective to the message that works. Try doing that with a few thousand leaflets after you’ve printed them. Or with re-wrapping a billboard. Keep that in mind as you compare the features.

Let’s compare a Billboard Ad to a Facebook Ad.



So what is the bottom line? Whic


h one is better? The digital seems to beat the billboard on everything… except the unknown – the cost. What you should be looking at while making the decision on where to spend you money is the cost per impression and the quality of that impression. How many billboard impressions are likely wasted on the wrong target? How many billboard impressions are less effective because they are served at the wrong time of the day? Or is your billboard message so strong that it works for any audience?

Make an educated estimate, calculate adjusted cost per impression and spend your dollars accordingly.  

In the end, it’s all just advertising.


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