Dairy Queen Knows Us Better Than We Know Ourselves

A simple discount helped Dairy Queen shoot to the top of the fast food rankings last month.

It's easy to see why mobile apps have so quickly become the name of the game for fast food giants. These apps grant the companies direct access to your pocket, gathering information about our shopping habits and even tracking our whereabouts in order to glean valuable consumer intel. And while many fast food chains use complicated systems of gamification like "badges" and "challenges" to increase the use of their loyalty apps, one chain saw a massive uptick in app downloads last month by doing something much simpler.

The top downloaded fast food mobile apps in April 2023

Unsurprisingly, McDonald's is pretty much always the most downloaded fast food mobile app in the United States each month. Industry publication QSR Magazine reports that the McDonald's app was planted into 3.4 million devices nationwide in April 2023. But the second most downloaded fast food app last month is one you probably wouldn't even have considered: Dairy Queen.


How did a chain with mediocre burgers achieve this feat, soaring past the likes of Starbucks, Taco Bell, and Chick-fil-A to sit just underneath McDonald's with an impressive 3.3 million downloads in April (according to data from Apptopia)? To answer that, let's look at the tried-and-true tactics used across the industry.

Most fast food companies convince us to download their apps with a simple carrot: freebies. Everyone loves free stuff. Most of the time, new users of an app are automatically qualified to score a free side of fries with their purchase, or maybe it's a BOGO deal on sandwiches. Whatever the case, these deals entice us to become rewards members.

But DQ didn't do that. Instead of giving anything away for free, the brand simply relied on the public's love of its classic frozen treats, which are hard to pass up.


How Dairy Queen gained customers without giving away free food

In a landscape littered with freebies that can be "unlocked" with complicated digital coupons and promo codes, DQ went a lot simpler, employing a tried-and-true tactic: a plain old discount.

A two-week promotion in April pushing $0.85 Blizzards is what led to the massive bump in app downloads. When the promotion was announced in late March, customers signed up like crazy, and in April when DQ announced that the deal had gone live, app downloads kept rising at a fast clip. QSR Magazine notes that push notifications might have made all the difference here, as once users had the app on their phones, DQ could remind them to take advantage of the discounted Blizzard. (A typical small Blizzard is around $3.50, so it's a good discount.) From March to April, Apptopia indicates, app downloads increased a whopping 974%.


Lots of apps can feel too complicated, and something about the simplicity of "cheap ice cream!" seems to have really captured the public's attention here, even if it wasn't being given away for free. People love discounts as much as they love their soft serve, and with summer coming up, it's likely DQ's going to see many of those 3.3 million new users browsing through Blizzards on the app, and next time they order one, it'll be full price.