Top 12 Junk Food Marketing Strategies in 2024

junk food marketing strategies
June 13, 20244 minutes
Kelia Losa Reinoso photo
Kelia Losa Reinoso

Junk food marketing strategies play a significant role in the promotion and sale of unhealthy food products.

Companies utilize these strategies to attract consumers, particularly children, to purchase their products and increase their profits.

However, these marketing strategies have been a subject of controversy due to their negative impact on public health and the rising obesity rates worldwide.

This piece covers common junk food marketing strategies, their impact on public health, and how they can be regulated.

What is Junk Food Marketing?

Junk food marketing encompasses the tactics and techniques fast-food chains and restaurants use to promote their products to consumers.

From catchy advertisements to irresistible promotions, these strategies are designed to appeal to consumers’ desires and cravings, often leveraging psychological triggers to influence purchasing decisions.

According to the UCONN Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health, food, beverage, and restaurant companies spend up to  $14 billion per anum on food advertisements alone in the United States, and more than 80% of this is meant to promote junk food, ie. fast food, sugary drinks, candy, and unhealthy snacks.

How Junk Food Marketing Strategies Work

Junk food marketing employs various tactics to appeal to consumers, usually targeting specific demographics such as children and teenagers. Some common strategies include:

  • Celebrity endorsements: Fast-food chains often use celebrities or popular figures in their advertisements to make their products more appealing and relatable to consumers.
  • Product placement: Junk food brands pay for their products to be featured in movies, TV shows, and video games, increasing their visibility and desirability among young audiences.
  • Social media influencer partnerships: With the rise of social media, junk food companies are now partnering with social media influencers with large followings to promote their products on platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.
  • Toy promotions: Fast-food chains often offer children’s toys to accompany their kid’s meals, creating a connection between the brand and positive childhood memories in young consumers.

12 Best Junk Food Marketing Strategies

1. Meal bundles and combos

Offering bundled deals and combos is a classic junk food marketing strategy to entice customers with value-packed options.

By combining popular menu items at a discounted price, fast-food chains attract customers looking for a satisfying meal without breaking the bank. 

McDonald’s Happy Meals are a classic example. They combine a burger, fries, and a drink with a toy, making it an attractive option for families.

2. Kids’ menu and collectibles

Targeting families is a key aspect of junk food marketing, and creating a specialized kids’ menu with smaller portions and collectible toys or games is a surefire way to appeal to young consumers and their parents.

These collectibles not only drive sales but also encourage repeat visits and word-of-mouth marketing.

Burger King’s kids’ menu often features smaller portions and comes with collectible toys based on popular movies or characters. These toys encourage kids to pester parents for return visits.

3. QR code ordering

One of the best junk food marketing strategies can be done by embracing new technology. Fast-food chains are implementing QR code ordering systems to streamline the ordering process and enhance convenience for customers.

By allowing patrons to browse the menu and place orders directly from their smartphones, restaurants provide a seamless and contactless dining experience.

Many chains like Chipotle now use QR codes at tables, allowing customers to browse menus and order directly from their phones. This is convenient and promotes faster service.

4. Branded mobile apps

Developing branded mobile apps enables fast-food chains to offer online ordering and delivery services, catering to the growing demand for convenience among consumers.

These apps not only simplify the ordering process but also serve as a powerful marketing tool, engaging customers with exclusive promotions and rewards.

Domino’s app frequently features coupons and special offers for app users, incentivizing them to order through the app.

Taco Bell’s app recommends items based on your previous orders and even lets you create your own customized menu creations.

5. Holiday promotions

Capitalizing on food-related holidays, such as National Burger Day or National French Fry Day, presents opportunities for fast-food chains to launch unique promotions and attract attention from consumers, and is one of the most common junk food marketing strategies in the business.

These themed promotions create excitement and drive sales, tapping into consumers’ love for special occasions.

To celebrate National Nacho Cheese Day, Taco Bell might offer free upgrades to large nacho cheese portions or discounted nacho cheese menu items, highlighting a popular menu item and driving sales.

6. Limited menu offerings

Streamlining the menu to focus on core offerings is a strategic food marketing tactic employed by fast-food chains to simplify operations and enhance customer satisfaction.

By highlighting popular dishes and minimizing choice overload, restaurants create a more efficient ordering experience for customers.

Chick-fil-A maintains a relatively limited menu compared to other fast-food chains. This allows them to focus on perfecting their core offerings like chicken sandwiches and waffle fries, streamlining operations, and potentially enhancing food quality.

7. Color psychology

Leveraging the power of color psychology, fast-food chains use vibrant hues like red and yellow in their branding and interior design to stimulate appetite and evoke positive emotions.

These strategic color choices influence consumers’ perceptions and drive impulse purchases. Color psychology is used in many well-known junk food marketing strategies.

Subway heavily utilizes green and yellow in its branding and restaurant design. Green is often associated with freshness and health, which can be appealing to customers seeking a lighter option.

Yellow is known to evoke feelings of happiness and optimism, creating a welcoming atmosphere.

8. Upselling and cross-selling

“Would you like to make that a large fry?” This classic upselling tactic is used by many fast-food chains.

Implementing upselling and cross-selling techniques allows fast-food chains to increase average order value and maximize revenue per customer.

By suggesting complementary items or upgrades during the ordering process, restaurants encourage customers to indulge in additional menu offerings. 

9. Loyalty programs

Rewarding customer loyalty is a cornerstone of successful junk food marketing. Loyalty programs incentivize repeat visits and foster brand loyalty by offering discounts, rewards, and exclusive perks to loyal customers, ultimately driving retention and revenue.

Chipotle’s rewards program offers free guac or other menu upgrades after a certain number of purchases. This encourages customers to visit more frequently to reach their reward goals.

10. Social media engagement

The use of social media for food marketing has surged recently, with fast-food chains eagerly joining the trend.

Platforms like Instagram and Twitter allow these companies to highlight menu items, promote deals, interact with customers, and remain prominent in consumers’ minds.

Engaging with customers on social media enables fast-food chains to build relationships, generate buzz, and drive traffic to their locations.

By sharing engaging content, running contests, and responding to customer feedback in real time, restaurants cultivate a loyal following and stay top-of-mind among consumers.

Domino’s frequently runs contests on Twitter, encouraging users to share funny tweets or answer trivia questions related to their pizza. This creates user engagement and generates brand buzz.

11. Timism

Timism, or time-optimizing activism, is a concept that fast-food chains can adopt to improve operations and customer experience.

By streamlining processes and reducing wait times for orders, restaurants can increase efficiency and satisfy customers’ need for speed.

This could include implementing self-order kiosks or offering mobile ordering and payment options.

Additionally, timism also involves optimizing employee workflow to improve productivity and reduce mistakes, leading to better service overall.

12. Creating a welcoming atmosphere

In addition to the food itself, creating a welcoming atmosphere within the restaurant can greatly impact the customer experience.

This could include having comfortable seating, well-lit and clean dining areas, and friendly staff who make an effort to connect with customers.

How AI Enhances Junk Food Marketing Strategies

As technology continues to evolve, junk food marketing strategies are evolving alongside it, with artificial intelligence (AI) playing a crucial role in enhancing targeting, personalization, and campaign effectiveness.

AI-powered consumer data platforms, such as Tastewise, enable fast-food brands to analyze trends, understand consumer preferences, and execute data-driven marketing campaigns with precision and efficiency.


How is junk food marketed? 

Junk food is marketed through various channels, including television advertisements, social media campaigns, in-store promotions, and strategic partnerships.

These marketing efforts often target specific demographics, such as children, teenagers, and young adults, leveraging persuasive messaging and enticing visuals to drive consumption.

Who is the target market for junk food? 

The target market for junk food typically includes individuals of all ages who seek convenience, indulgence, and affordability in their dining choices.

While children and adolescents are often prime targets due to their susceptibility to advertising, adults also constitute a significant portion of the target market, particularly those with busy lifestyles or cravings for nostalgic comfort foods.

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