Skip to main content

Fast Food Giants Spend Record Sums On Marketing As Food Prices Soar

Collage of various junk food ads

Press Release 25 May 2023

As the cost of living crisis deepens and household budgets get stretched, the biggest names in fast food are spending record amounts promoting their products to us and our children. 

Last year, as many British people were struggling to put food on the table, some of the brands best known for nutrition-poor food spent an eye-watering £87.5 million on digital and social media advertising. Think McDonalds, KFC, UberEats and JustEat.

In fact, the top 10 spenders ploughed 75% more money into their social media and digital advertising in 2022 than they did the previous 12 months. All this in the year that should have marked new restrictions on the advertising of foods high in fat, salt or sugar, restrictions which the Government has now delayed from 2023 to 2025.

The largest percentage increases came from McDonald’s, who increased their advertising spend by almost 300%, and KFC and UberEats who increased theirs by 224% and 199% respectively. With companies choosing to put so much investment into bombarding us with glossy images and videos of unhealthy options, parents are helpless to protect their children from the influence of these giant brands. Is it any wonder therefore that fast food is playing a starring role in children's minds, and that 64% of adults and a third of children are now at risk, or future risk, of diet-related illness.

So Bite Back decided to dig deeper into the figures, revealing which much-loved brands are spending most on the manipulative marketing tactics slipping and sliding into our homes and phones. The analysis is released to coincide with the launch of their new report ‘Enticing, Effective and Everywhere: How Brands are Keeping Unhealthy Food and Drink in the Spotlight with Digital Marketing to Young People’ which reveals young people see more fast food advertising than any other type of food ads, and finds unhealthy food adverts use a range of highly effective techniques to influence young people. 

The good news is Bite Back’s army of young activists are taking action, calling on the Government to go ahead with implementing the new restrictions on advertising unhealthy products on TV and online, without delay or watering down. At the same time they are urging these powerful food and drink companies to voluntarily do the right thing for children's health, and shift their marketing spend on to promoting their healthier options. 

18 year old Yumna Hussen lives in Birmingham and has been part of Bite Back for the last two years, she said: “We see junk food adverts plastered on bus shelters, on the back of bus tickets and on billboards around the city. These manipulative marketing tactics must stop. Companies must use their power to design a system that’s rigged in favour of our health.” 

Research and background 

Key points

  • Digital and social media advertising expenditure by the top ten biggest spending fast food outlets and delivery platforms increased by by £37.5m between 2021 and 2022 — an increase of 75%
  • The total spend by the top ten was £50m in 2021 rising to £87.5m in 2022.
  • The increase is driven by big increases in spend by McDonald’s (equivalent to just under 300% ) and KFC (equivalent to 225%)
  • In 2022 the top 10 spending businesses accounted for more than two thirds (67%) of the total combined digital and social media advertising spend by restaurants and food delivery platforms.
  • The same nine businesses were the top spenders in both 2021 and 2022, including the three main food delivery platforms who spent a combined £35m on social and digital advertising in 2022.
  • Two companies reduced their spending between 2021 and 2022. These were Deliveroo and Papa Johns (which dropped out of the top 10).
  • Papa Johns was one of the top 10 spenders in 2021 but dropped out of the top 10 in 2022. The German Doner Kebab restaurant was in the top 10 spenders in 2022 but not in 2021.
  • The data included in the analysis is food and drink advertising plus brand advertising (which often features a product even if it is not advertising the product directly). 
  • The advertising included in the analysis will not all be for high fat, sugar and salt products. However, separate research shows that food available from takeaway outlets is typically large in portion size and has high levels of saturated fat, sugar and salt. (footnote 1)

Findings: Ranking of restaurant and food delivery companies by % increase in digital and social media spend in 2021 and 2022.

Please note: % increase in the spend does not correlate with volume spend. The businesses with the largest increases may not be the highest spenders overall.


% increase in expenditure






Uber Eats


Yum (Pizza Hut)




Just Eat








Papa John’s


German Doner Kebab restaurant


Total % increase in expenditure 


Total volume spend by top 10 in 2021


Total volume spend by top 10 in 2022




  • We used the Nielsen advertising database to firstly identify the restaurant and food delivery companies that used digital and social media advertising in 2021 and 2022.
  • The spend (footnote 2) data was ordered to identify the 10 top spending brands by year
    • We excluded Getir and Go Puff (2022) on the basis they deliver grocery products rather than fast food and Too Good to Go (2021 and 2022) on the basis that it does not sell food.
  • The data was broken down by media type to identify the social and digital media advertising spend for the top spending brands in both years.
  • The data was reviewed to remove advertising not related to the food outlet sector including Deliveroo and UberEats grocery and business advertising
  • Instagram data on the Nielsen database is available for the partial year in 2021. To account for this, we used the complete data for October-December to estimate a monthly average and then applied this across the remainder of the year.
  • The Nielsen database also excludes TikTok data and influencer campaigns. 
  • All data was downloaded from Nielsen on 22.03.23


Footnote 1 — Jaworowska A, M. Blackham T, Long R, et al Nutritional composition of takeaway food in the UK. Nutr Food Sci 2014;44:414–30

Footnote 2 — Estimated spend based on Nielsen costing methodologies. Nielsen has been at the forefront of measurement, data & analytics in the media industry for nearly 100 years and our Advertising Intelligence is globally recognised as industry standard data in over 30 markets across 5 regions.

Keep up!

Join our movement! We’ll be in touch with opportunities to raise your voice to get the big players in business and government to act for every young person’s right to health.

To view how we process personal and sensitive information, please see our privacy policy. You can opt out of communications at any time by clicking "unsubscribe" on our emails.