Big, Cheap and Fatty: Fast Food Wars in Tough Times

The industry is drawing the battle lines for an all-out cheap food war. At stake are millions of fast food dollars as the industry struggles to keep customers coming and spending at the levels needed to keep profits from continuing to slide.

At the beginning of the recession, fast food sales went up significantly. But as hard times dragged on and unemployment began to rise, sales began to decline. Even McDonald's late last year posted some of its first U.S. same-store sales declines in years.

Industry officials claim to be adding the value options to help families struggling with the recession and high unemployment. By all appearances they seem to be trying everything. In addition to the comfort food on steroids we've already discussed, most major chains are experimenting with vegetarian and healthy fare as well.

Targeting Key Groups

All of the chains feature humorous commercials. Pizza Hut is using a new advertising agency, the same one that does the talking Geico lizard and Walmart spots. These ads on the surface are all clever and light, but just below the surface they are working hard to entice key target groups -- blue collar customers and young men -- into their restaurants.

The advertisements do their job: Promote value, low prices, choices and satisfying portion sizes. The weight of the economic downturn has been a load too much to bear for many families and the effects will be felt for many years to come as jobs have been lost and savings have dwindled. As fast food companies try to market their way out of recession, the nation's waistlines are growing.

The work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Larry D. Woodard is president and CEO of Graham Stanley Advertising, a full-service advertising agency based in New York City. He is also chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies New York Council and the recipient of many prestigious industry awards, including two O'Toole Awards for Agency of the Year, the London International Award, Gold Effie, Telly, Mobius, Addy's and the Cannes Gold Lion. A blogger and a frequent public speaker, Woodard enjoys discussing the intersection of media, politics, entertainment and technology.

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