Now more than ever, consumers look to social media for inspiring messages, a break from reality and entertaining content. With social media consumption up across the board, these platforms give brands opportunities unlike any other to get their messages out to a wide range of audiences resulting in sales, brand recognition and (ideally) positive company sentiment. There are many companies acing their food and beverage social media campaigns, and taking a closer look at their successes can help to inspire your social media.

Food and Beverage Social Media Campaigns We Love

It’s hard to think of a time when we weren’t consumed by everything coronavirus, but before “flattening the curve” and “social distancing” were buzzwords, food and beverage companies successfully leveraged social media channels to launch and spread the word about their latest and greatest. Here are a few of our favorite standouts from brands that used company values, user engagement and trending topics to launch killer campaigns, alongside creative tips to consider implementing in your future social media strategies.

  1. Burger King’s “A Day Without Whoppers” Campaign: When McDonald’s’ “McHappy Day” came to its Argentine locations in 2019—an annual day of giving when the burger chain donates $2 for every Big Mac purchased to benefit the Children with Cancer Foundation—its competitor Burger King decided to launch “A Day Without Whoppers” to encourage its customers to purchase Big Macs from McDonald’s to support the cause. That year, McDonald’s sold more than 73,000 Big Macs versus the previous year, and Burger King secured 206 million media impressions.
  2. Chipotle’s Guac Mode: As a “thank you” to loyal customers, the company launched “Guac Mode” with the offer of free guacamole (usually an extra charge on orders) available to customers when they joined the rewards program by Feb. 20, 2020, along with other perks to come. The chain teased the offer by completely changing its Twitter strategy to solely focus on everything guacamole, using sly hints and puns in tweets to launch the campaign, with the call to action of texting to enter, going to its website or using its app. The campaign was a success for the restaurant, seeing an increase of just over 17% in sales in the month of February and an increase of digital sales by 80.8% in Q1.
  3. Wendy’s Breakfast: Twitter users know Wendy’s’ account for its sassy tweets and competitor smack talk, which is exactly what the brand stuck to for its breakfast launch. The content included videos with former McDonald’s Chef, Mike Haracz, testing and praising the new menu, a photoshopped image of the Burger King mascot in front of Wendy’s with a sign reading, “I’m camping out for Wendy’s breakfast” and an image of a tombstone reading, “RIP Egg McMuffin.” Along with that, the company touted its #WendysBreakfast tweets displayed on a billboard in Times Square to add fuel to the fire. Its Twitter account received more than 10,000 follower requests within 36 hours of locking its profile to offer exclusive coupons to its existing followers leading up to the menu launch.
  4. Ben & Jerry’s taking a stance on … everything: Fans of Ben & Jerry’s love the brand for its delicious ice cream and quirky flavor names, but it’s also known for using its platforms to speak on issues important to it that match its overall social mission as a business. From the criminal justice system, LGBTQ+ rights, climate change and more, it consistently delivers smaller campaigns across its social channels to keep a steady beat of activism. To make it even sweeter, it continues to create new ice cream flavors to match the issues it supports, like Justice ReMix’d, Pecan Resist, Americone Dream and Phish Food. As a brand, it has a rich history of leading socially responsible campaigns and doesn’t look to change anytime soon.
  5. Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino: Remember back in 2017 when unicorn-themed everything was all the rage? Snapchat launched a unicorn filter, Apple created an emoji and, following suit, Starbucks launched its limited-time Unicorn Frappuccino. By using its social channels to share images of the aesthetically pleasing drink, it fostered a cult following on social media, garnering nearly 180,000 posts on Instagram in under a week.

Before COVID-19 hit pandemic level, communications professionals didn’t have to worry about a worldwide crisis impacting how the public would perceive their messages. If they stuck to their brand’s tone of voice and values, and used their knowledge on audience preferences, they could typically craft a successful campaign without breaking a sweat. But now, strategies are ever-changing; while some miss the mark, many are getting it just right by encouraging engagement on social channels, giving back to the community and bringing some fun into the day-to-day. Check out these inspiring food and beverage social media campaigns during the time of COVID-19:

  1. Ben & Jerry’s 4/20 and #EarthDayLive: In staying true to its usual conversation around social matters, Ben & Jerry’s continues to make its opinions heard. In honor of the marijuana-inspired day, April 20, the brand shared stats highlighting the injustice of the cannabis industry, specifically with who grows and profits off the plant compared to those incarcerated for using it. Additionally, for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the brand created a video demonstrating the effects of temperature change on ice cream as a way to exhibit what climate change does to the Earth. It also promoted the youth-led digital campaign, #EarthDayLive, on its channels, encouraging followers to participate in the three-day program.
  2. Bud Light’s #BooTheCommish: Football fans across America thought they wouldn’t get the opportunity to “boo” the National Football League commissioner during the 2020 draft as it went virtual, but Bud Light decided to take matters in its own hands and make it happen for the fans, all while giving back, with its #BooTheCommish campaign. The brand encourages fans to submit “boos” for the brand to send to Roger Goodell. Each submission donates $1 for up to $500,000 toward the NFL Draft-A-Thon, a fundraiser for COVID-19 relief efforts.
  3. McDonald’s giving frontline workers free meals: McDonald’s called on its followers through social media to tag frontline workers in comments sections or share the posts with them to bring awareness to its free meal days for frontline workers, which ran from April 22 to May 5, 2020.
  4. Chipotle’s “Chipotle Together”: As a way to encourage staying home and social distancing while coming together, Chipotle launched its virtual lunch times via Zoom called, “Chipotle Together.” Featuring celebrity guests and free burrito giveaways, Chipotle is aiming to do its part in bringing together people while physically staying apart.
  5. El Pollo Loco’s National Nurse Week gift card giveaway: To honor the nurses working day in and day out to fight COVID-19, El Pollo Loco launched its limited edition eGift Cards, with the image of a nurse, just in time for National Nurses Week. The campaign encourages the brand’s followers to tag a nurse in the post’s comments section, in which El Pollo Loco will reach out to send them a free gift card to the restaurant.

As we start to look forward to our “new normal,” social media will continue bringing people together in ways we did not think of before the pandemic, and brands should look for ways to be a part of it. Now more than ever, impactful food and beverage social media campaigns should be a priority in your marketing strategy. While adapting to new online consumption trends and morphing strategies to reflect the changes, here are some tips to consider implementing:

  1. Stick to what you know, what your brand stands for and what resonates with your audience, and run with it. You know your brand better than anyone else. You also know what works with your audience and what doesn’t. Keep that knowledge in hand, be authentic and true to your brand while looking to new social strategies, and you’re sure to launch a campaign your followers will love, like Ben & Jerry’s does over and over again.
  2. It will not be a flip-of-the-switch change when we start “reopening,” so keep thinking of how you can continue to engage your virtual fanbase, even when doors reopen. Restaurants will always be places that bring people together for a meal or a drink, and good company and conversations, but right now that isn’t the case. Finding new ways that allow your guests to bring the experience of your brand-offers to their homes, like Chipotle’s virtual lunches, is irreplaceable during tough times, when we all need to add some levity and diversity to our days.
  3. Social media brings us together now more than ever (even with our competitors); don’t be afraid to join forces. While brand competition fuels your fan base, coming together with your biggest competitor when it benefits the greater good of the community, like Burger King and McDonald’s, speaks volumes about your brand values and reinforces why your fans should keep supporting you.
  4. Consumers want to take part in what you’re doing, so let them. FOMO is a real thing for consumers, whether trying a Unicorn drink, sharing a “boo” for the NFL commissioner, commenting to show support to frontline workers or texting to enter for free guac. If you can mobilize your fan base easily, especially if it’s something as simple as participating on social media, your campaign’s engagement will soar.
  5. If your social strategy was strong before COVID-19 and continues to work during it, keep it up. Twitter users know Chipotle and Wendy’s for their interactions with customers and brands on the platform, so it makes sense they would use Twitter for their campaigns. If your strategy is similarly as strong during changing times, why fix what isn’t broken? And if you’re finding your tactics didn’t produce results the way you expected, there’s always time to go back to the drawing board. Look to other brands that continue to generate successful campaigns, and see how you can learn from their accomplishments to create something that works for your brand and audience.

As communicators, we’re tasked with the job of getting the word out, no matter what’s happening in the world, and social media is a key tactic to do so in the food and beverage industry. To make sure we distribute messages in ways that are appropriate to the times, we have to keep them clear and build strategies that have the ability to morph in real time, if necessary. And if you can add a human interest component that isn’t self-serving, especially in times of need—like McDonald’s and El Pollo Loco—you’ll come out on top.

Get in touch with our team to find out more about how to improve your food and beverage social media campaigns.