advertisement
advertisement

PAID CONTENT

hey2
PAID CONTENT

A brand-fluencer is born

Wendy’s winning social media approach is the cornerstone of its unique brand appeal

A brand-fluencer is born

In 1984, fast-food chain Wendy’s debuted its “Where’s the Beef?” advertising campaign, with TV spots featuring the inimitable Clara Peller posing the titular question to two gray-haired companions as they surveyed a competitor’s burger. The campaign elevated the catchphrase into the pop culture pantheon, and fueled record sales at Wendy’s.

advertisement

For Kurt Kane, Wendy’s president, U.S., and chief commercial officer, the ad is a perfect illustration of the burger chain’s brand. It’s light, memorable, and fun, offering subtle—but not mean-spirited—jabs at Wendy’s competition. “Our brand tone and our tone of voice comes down to one word: sassy,” Kane says.

Wendy’s previous advertising successes—including hundreds of ads featuring folksy company founder Dave Thomas—provided a road map for Kane and his team as they searched for new ways to connect with fast-food aficionados. In recent years, Wendy’s has staked out the social media space as ground zero for its brand marketing efforts. From viral Tweets to tie-ins with Instagram influencers, Wendy’s has redefined how corporate marketing can successfully tap into the memes and trends of today’s fast-paced social media zeitgeist.

It’s that creative—and yes, sassy—approach to marketing that’s earned Wendy’s a spot on Fast Company’s list of the world’s Most Innovative Companies.

advertisement
advertisement

CLAPBACKS AND RETWEETS

Nearly a decade ago, Wendy’s marketing department noticed that its television ads weren’t connecting with viewers quite as well as they used to. By contrast, the company’s cheeky online videos—like the 2013 “Pretzel Love Songs” series that promoted Wendy’s new Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger—were getting plenty of views. The discrepancy got the marketing team’s wheels turning. “If people like how we’re talking in these digital videos,” Kane recalls thinking, “how can we have that conversation more directly with people where they can engage with us?”

Twitter offered an immediate answer. Kane turned his marketers loose on the social media platform, encouraging them to push the envelope in ways that reflected the brand’s signature approach. Case in point: A 2017 Twitter exchange that saw Wendy’s responding to a user’s disbelief that the company has never used frozen beef patties in its burgers. “So you deliver it raw on a hot truck?” was followed up with a suggestion that the user “forgot refrigerators existed for a second there.” The Tweet—and its more than 24,000 retweets—helped solidify Wendy’s playful social media presence.

POP CULTURE FLUENCY

In recent years, Wendy’s took its Twitter playbook to gaming and beyond, pivoting from spectator to main character. From “Keeping Fortnite Fresh” on Twitch to showing up as Wendy on Mario Kart Live, the brand earned stardom in the gaming universe. Wendy’s emerged on new platforms such as Discord, brought customers immersive experiences through Rick and Morty partnerships, and captivated the Twitterverse with its National Roast Day burns.

advertisement

The social media landscape is littered with corporate branding fails that have left CMOs wincing in their corner offices. Kane says Wendy’s has avoided those kinds of disasters by, paradoxically, keeping oversight to a minimum and trusting the marketing team’s fluency in Wendy’s branding messaging. “Our guardrails are: Don’t be offensive, be proud of our food, and be proud of who we are,” Kane says. “Knowing that up front allows us to turn people loose to engage in real time.”

advertisement
advertisement
advertisement