Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, Part II (HBBIP #37)

Alex Rawitz
Alex Rawitz
Jun 13, 2024

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No, I’m not writing a whole blog post just to reference a novelty rap song released nearly 15 years ago. But I’m also not not kind of doing that.

As it turns out, during a recent investigation of social media’s top Quick-Service Restaurants (QSRs), these two brands really did stand out from the pack, both in terms of growth trajectory from 2018 onwards and momentum over the last year.

First, let’s take a look at how this vertical stacked up from January 2018 to April 2024:

image_1_720-4Quick Service Restaurants EMV for January 2018 - April 2024 

We’ve got some familiar suspects here—Starbucks and McDonald’s are way out in front, as covered in a previous edition of this blog series, while Raising Cane’s, a longtime creator marketing standout and fellow previous subject in this blog series, is on the move at No. 12. Finally, erstwhile partners Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, once so commonly found paired up together in the iconic duplexes, rank at No. 5 and No. 14, respectively. Just think: if they were still together, they could have come in at 9.5!

Things look even rosier for each brand when it comes to sustained success during this time period:

image_2_720-4Top 14 QSRs by EMV, 2018 - 2023

Okay, let’s try that again without Starbucks and McDonald’s throwing off the scale. (But do note that photo-finish. With the pair of QSR giants entering 2024 even, who will emerge victorious at the end of the year?)

image_3_720-4Top QSRs without Starbucks or McDonald's 

This is still a little noisy, but we can see Taco Bell in green surpassing Chick-fil-A to claim 2023’s No. 4 spot, and coming close to challenging Chipotle for No. 3. Additionally, down toward the bottom of the graph, check out Pizza Hut rising smooth and steady, surpassing Krispy Kreme for the No. 13 ranking in 2023.

Here’s a zoomed-in look at our zesty friends:

image_4_720-3Taco Bell EMV, 2018 - 2023 

After a slight dip—and not of the queso variety—in 2020, Taco Bell rebounded significantly thereafter, with a particularly notable rise between 2022 and 2023. We’ll examine the factors behind that momentum momentarily, but first, how are things going over at the Hut?

image_5_720-1Pizza Hut EMV, 2018 - 2023 

I had to do this one as a bar chart, because it’s just so darn aesthetically pleasing. In fact, along with McDonald’s and Raising Cane’s, Pizza Hut was one of the few QSRs within the top 14 to enjoy an increase in EMV every calendar year between 2018 and 2023. This trend even holds true until we get to No. 22, where we add Tim Horton’s to the list of consistent growers. After all, who doesn’t love a Timbit?

Note once again that dramatic growth between 2022 and 2023—same as Taco Bell. So what’s the story there? It mainly has to do with factors that the two brands have in common: platform dynamics, incoming creators, and the increasing interconnectedness between QSR content and other verticals.

Let’s go point by point:

Platform Dynamics

While Instagram accounts for a plurality of both QSRs’ EMV, the times they are a-changin’:

image_6_720Instagram EMV for Taco Bell and Pizza Hut 

For Taco Bell, Instagram exhibits strong YoY growth. But over on the Pizza Hut half of the building, Instagram is holding steady as other platforms make their move.

image_7_720TikTok EMV for Taco Bell and Pizza Hut 

In comparison, TikTok runs nearly even with Taco Bell’s Instagram total, and exhibits even stronger YoY growth. At this rate, look for TikTok to surpass Instagram as Taco Bell’s top platform sometime this year. Meanwhile, though Instagram still edges ahead by raw EMV total, TikTok is also one of Pizza Hut’s fastest growing platforms. Cheese-pulls for both brands just work better in video form, you know?

image_8_720YouTube EMV for Taco Bell and Pizza Hut

Notice how I said “one of” above? Small but mighty, YouTube claims the top spot on the fastest-growing list for Pizza Hut with a 62% YoY improvement. YouTube also saw a healthy 94% YoY improvement for Taco Bell, further underscoring the ‘video is king’ philosophy that’s driving growth for QSRs right now.

This effect was more pronounced for Pizza Hut than Taco Bell: none of Pizza Hut’s top 12 EMV-driving posts stemmed from Instagram, which overall contributed just three of the chain’s top 30 highest-earning pieces of content. In comparison, Instagram accounted for seven of Taco Bell’s top-earning posts.

Incoming Creators

One simple reason why video platforms are fueling growth for Taco Bell and Pizza Hut? Both brands are adding TikTokers and YouTubers to their rosters of brand partners, and these incoming creators are contributing a majority of both brands’ EMV totals.

These incoming creators generated $58.4M EMV for Taco Bell (53% of the brand’s total). Of that total, $28.3M EMV came from TikTok, outpacing Instagram’s $26.7M EMV total. Meanwhile, over in Pizzaland, Pizza Hut saw $19.5M EMV from incoming creators (58% of the brand’s total). TikTok didn’t outpace Instagram, but TikTok and YouTube combined did:

image_9_480Pizza Hut New EMV

Those are a lot of figures, but the basic point stands: as more creators favor short-form video, TikTok and YouTube, driven by Shorts, stand to play an even more pronounced role in QSRs’ total EMV.

Told you it was pretty simple.

Other Verticals

It’s not enough to just sell tacos or pizza anymore. Don’t believe me? Take a spin through QSRs’ most viral, highest-engagement content sometime. You’ll see how much of the time, it’s not really about new offerings, but rather how these brands sit at the intersection of food and lifestyle. What’s more, given Taco Bell and Pizza Hut’s largely young audiences, there’s additional overlap with the worlds of humor and sports.

Taco Bell’s top influencers include creators who inhabit that nexus between foodie content and lifestyle posts. Look no further than the very top of the list for proof: TikToker Madison Elise, self-described “foodie and travel girl” and professional carseat burrito reviewer, ranked No. 1 for Taco Bell with $1.7M EMV. But Taco Bell’s rolodex of top earners also included multidisciplinary superstars running the gamut from Paris Hilton to LeBron James (what do you think those two talk about, besides Taco Bell)? This demonstrates not only Taco Bell’s multifacetedness, but also its ubiquity within pop culture at large.

Meanwhile, while Pizza Hut is still waiting on its LeBron collab, the brand went even harder at the sports market. The brand’s top four earners all emerged from the wide world of sports: the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the WWE, Overtime, and Barstool Sports inspired a combined $4.2M EMV. House of Highlights and Pardon My Take, two tentpole franchises for modern sports fans, also featured amongst Pizza Hut’s top 20 earners. Rounding out this list were celebrity partners like viral food critic Keith Lee and comedian Trevor Noah.

All this stands as further proof that while combination Pizza Hut/Taco Bells might not be as common as they once were, the dream of fast food unity is still alive and well. It’s also further proof that I know what I’ll do for dinner tonight.

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