Using TikTok creators as a marketing tool, Panera Bread tries to rise buzz with millennials, Gen Z

Panera Bread wants to engage and attract millennials and Gen Z audiences with creators on TikTok, where many of those cohorts are already spending most of their time.

The brand is using its TikTok influencers, the FRDI show (2.2 million followers), Chris Olsen (9.9 million followers), Halley Kate (941,000 followers), Rach Sullivan (2.5 million followers), and Janneh Konneh (68,000 followers), to make short-form videos that illustrate the new look of Panera Bread through their feeds. The financial agreement between the parties was not disclosed.

Rather than using Instagram and Facebook, Panera uses TikTok content creators, said Drayton Martin, Panera’s vice president of brand building, who noted that the Meta sibling sites don’t attract Gen Z as much as they used to given their shorter attention spans. As a result, the brand does not want to over-allocate marketing dollars to these platforms.

“Our specific paid media investment strategy follows our guests’ viewing habits to maximize reach and attention,” said Martin. “Panera’s audience are spending more time on TikTok, so we are shifting more dollars to this platform and we continually evaluate our mix as we stay in tune with our audience.”

Martin declined to say how much Panera Bread has spent on working with creators. According to Pathmatics by Sensor Tower data, the brand spent a little over $8 million so far on advertising in 2023 and over $65 million in 2022. The data also showed that $6.7 million was spent on paid media TikTok in 2022 and a little under $100,000 so far in 2023.

The brand also recently made a limited edition baguette-style handbag and gave it to notable and fashion-forward influencers like Janneh Konneh and Halley Kate to promote their new sandwich on the TikTok app in February. According to Dash Hudson, the TikTok analytical tool, Panera Bread’s TikTok account grew by 3,000 followers as a result.

“This is a great example of finding a creative but still authentic way to generate buzz, even if it meant creating a new product to enter a different space and influencer industry,” said Ali Fazal, vp of marketing at the creator management platform Grin. “Brands that continue finding these fun ways to engage with fresh audiences and step outside the limits of what a traditional creator campaign looks like will see the return of investment.”

Additionally, Panera is bringing its new look to digital ads and connected TV, more specifically on Hulu’s pause TV screen, which is an ad unit that will show up when you pause a video. This only shows up if you are a subscriber to Hulu with ads. Hulu and Disney declined to answer Digiday’s questions regarding the cost of advertising on this feature.

“There’s a lot of things that people can skip or view later and avoid ads,” said Martin as she explained why the brand took this approach to use Hulu’s pause TV screen. “But with live viewing, that becomes an important place where people are going to be there and it’s more a point of viewing for social media.”

The GWI study published in 2022 showed that Gen Z’s most distinctive priorities in life are fashion and appearance, more so than their older counterparts — which is in line with Panera’s move to position food and drink options as extensions of one’s personal brand.

“Panera’s approach to details takes a generational truth, sprinkled with humor that everyone can relate to and serves it on a piping hot platform that’s always hungry for unconventional brand partnerships, making it a recipe for social media success,” said Paige Raiczyk, strategist at the advertising agency Berlin Cameron.

According to Jacquie Kostuk, director and creative strategy at Fuse Create, partnerships between brands and social media influencers can be successful as long as the creators’ values and interests align with those of the brand.

“You don’t want influencers who say yes to every brand as their recommendations won’t seem as valuable and an ongoing long-term partnership allows the influencer to dive deep into the brand offering details and express its value in your routine for brands like Panera,” said Kostuk.

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