Chick-fil-A ranks first in new 'brand intimacy' study, knocks Starbucks from top spot

When it comes to fast food, diners are most emotional about Chick-fil-A.

That’s the big takeaway from a 2019 Brand Intimacy Study released by marketing agency MBLM, which measured customers’ fondness and emotional bonds toward the fast-food brands they “use and love.”

"The brand is able to connect with a wide range of customers and we expect it to continue to perform well in years to come," said Mario Natarelli, a managing partner with MBLM.

"The brand is able to connect with a wide range of customers and we expect it to continue to perform well in years to come," said Mario Natarelli, a managing partner with MBLM. (iStock)

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The study results, released Wednesday, indicate that Chick-fil-A has achieved the strongest emotional connection with customers of any of the 15 fast-food brands studied, and has effectively knocked Starbucks out of the top spot, where it sat for the previous two years.

"Chick-fil-A has gradually risen to the top of the fast-food industry in our annual study," said Mario Natarelli, a managing partner with MBLM, in a press release. "The brand is able to connect with a wide range of customers and we expect it to continue to perform well in years to come. Others in the industry can learn from the leader in creating more robust, stronger connections with their patrons."

Other brands customers connected with strongly were Dunkin’ (No. 2) and Starbucks (No. 3).

The brands were rated by several different criteria, including how respondents felt about each in terms of indulgence (“centered around moments of pampering and gratification that can be either occasional or frequent) and nostalgia (“memories of the past and the warm, poignant feelings”) among others.

The brands were rated by several different criteria, including how respondents felt about each in terms of indulgence (“centered around moments of pampering and gratification that can be either occasional or frequent) and nostalgia (“memories of the past and the warm, poignant feelings”) among others. (MBLM)

McDonald's, Taco Bell, Subway, Wendy's, Burger King, Chipotle and KFC rounded out the top ten.

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In order to arrive at its results, MBLM polled 6,200 customers in the United States, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates who earn over $35,000 per year and fall between 18 and 64 years of age. The brands also were rated by several different criteria, including how respondents felt about each in terms of indulgence (“centered around moments of pampering and gratification" that can be either occasional or frequent) and nostalgia (“memories of the past and the warm, poignant feelings”) among others.

Starbucks fell from the top spot in 2018 to third place in MBLM's 2019 study, just behind Dunkin'.

Starbucks fell from the top spot in 2018 to third place in MBLM's 2019 study, just behind Dunkin'. (iStock)

Among the study’s other interesting findings, Chick-fil-A was also found to be the favored choice for both men and women of any age, but was “particularly strong” with women and millennials. McDonald’s, on the other hand, was actually determined to be the preferred brand among those earning over $100,000.

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The MBLM study is just one of several the agency uses to rank the overall “brand intimacy” from companies in of a number of industries, including media, automotive, technology, travel and more. Currently, of all brands, Disney is ranked the highest. Chick-fil-A is ranked 10th overall.