Agency vets plan to track attitudes about fast-food

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Two agency veterans plan to fill a big void in U.S. fast-food companies' marketing strategies by importing a syndicated research tool from Canada.

Jack Kraft, former Leo Burnett Co. vice chairman and most recently exec VP at Young & Rubicam, New York, and Ian Miller, who recently quit as president of Tatham Euro RSCG, Chicago, are joining with Canadian businessman John Summers to offer Quick Track, the first national database gauging consumer fast-food attitudes.

While NPD Crest, Park Ridge, Ill., has measured behavior--how many visits to which chain, for example--for 25 years, Quick Track asks consumers which chain has the fastest service, the best food quality or the most convincing advertising through more than 1,000 phone surveys each month.

The Fast Track service has been available in Canada for five years; the first U.S. surveys will start this spring. Mr. Summer is president and majority shareholder of Quick Track; Mr. Kraft is a minority shareholder, and Mr. Miller is acting as a consultant.

Quick Track will have a base price of $300,000 a year, Mr. Kraft said.

"In talking to friends at Y&R and Burnett, there really seemed to be a need for this kind of survey," he said. "No one out there is continuously tracking the basic awareness, image and behavior information that every marketing person needs." (Y&R and Burnett are lead agencies for KFC Corp. and McDonald's Corp. respectively.)

In Canada, chains receive quarterly reports on overall image and monthly reports measuring awareness and trial of specific ad campaigns or promotions. Clients reveal each month's promotion plans before the fact so phone surveys can incorporate questions about the latest movie tie-in or value-price burger.

"The numbers go a long way toward convincing franchisees a certain promotion is working," said Mr. Miller, who dealt with skeptical Hardee's franchisees in his role at Tatham.

Fast-feeders increasingly must answer to franchisees, who contribute a significant sum to the annual marketing budget.

At a recent market research conference, two McDonald's executives said the chain uses sales data and customer feedback to reinforce McDonald's Extra Value Meal program to franchisees.

McDonald's research department has gained prominence, driving decisions like the creation of value meals and Super Size drinks and fries, said Larry Chandler, VP-market development.

"We're really jealous of the package-goods guys," said Jim Rand, McDonald's VP-marketing. "We're at a disadvantage because we don't have Nielsen or IRI to create databases for us."

Quick Track hopes to become one such third-party database, though Messrs. Kraft and Miller are targeting midsize U.S. marketers like Subway Sandwiches & Salads or Hardee's Food Systems.

"Companies like McDonald's and PepsiCo have marvelous market research" in the U.S., Mr. Kraft said, though McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut use the Canadian service.

Copyright December 1995 Crain Communications Inc.

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