Wendy's International, Inc.

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Wendy's International, Inc.

FRESH STUFFED PITA CAMPAIGN
GOOD TO BE SQUARE CAMPAIGN

One Dave Thomas Blvd.
Dublin, Ohio 43017-0256
USA
Telephone: (614) 764-3100
Fax: (614) 764-3330
Web site: www.wendys.com

FRESH STUFFED PITA CAMPAIGN

OVERVIEW

In a fast-food universe dominated by industry giant McDonald's, the task for the challengers has always been to devise a competitive posture that emphasizes differences that resonate with consumers. As customers began to assert their preference for fresh ingredients and made-to-order products, aggressive smaller chains moved to fill this demand. One of the first and most successful to do so was Wendy's International Inc.

Founded by R. Dave Thomas in 1969, the chain began by offering the kind of "fresh" burgers and shakes customers remembered from the days of the corner diner, a far cry from the processed patties that studded the menus of Wendy's big-name competitors. A series of quirky ad campaigns reinforced the company's image as a friendly, customer-oriented purveyor of simple comfort staples. Having established its niche, Wendy's continued to innovate, using menu flexibility to reflect the changing tastes of fast-food consumers. As tastes veered away from burgers and toward more healthful alternatives, Wendy's was thus in an ideal position to cater to this emerging market.

Consumers went through burger wars and price wars. Increasingly, however, they began to demand light but filling sandwiches that were more healthful than the traditional combinations of ground beef and cheese. By the late 1990s the demand for healthful fast-food items seemed to reach its peak.

Wendy's menu had long featured unconventional fast-food fare, including baked potatoes and chili. In response to the demands of health-conscious consumers, in 1979 it became one of the first chains to introduce a salad bar, which it did over the initial objections of Thomas. On the other hand, when McDonald's tried to introduce McPizza, consumers rejected it as bizarre and unappetizing. This was partly because McDonald's strong association with hamburgers left it ill-prepared for such a change in its menu. Wendy's, which was not encumbered by such associations, could and did respond more easily to the wishes of its customers.

One of the results was the introduction of the Fresh Stuffed Pita line in 1997. Inspired in part by the growing popularity of wrap sandwiches on restaurant menus, the four-sandwich line was designed to offer consumers the healthful benefits of a salad with a sandwich's portability. The common ingredient shared by all four sandwiches was the heated flatbread used to envelop the chilled ingredients. Two of the sandwiches incorporated chicken chunks, one with salad greens and a Caesar vinaigrette dressing and one with fresh vegetables and ranch dressing. A third, called Classic Greek, blended feta cheese into the mix, while the Garden Veggie Pita, which did not have meat or cheese, was the lightest option.

Using a massive promotional campaign, Wendy's sought to sell the new line to its existing customers while enticing salad lovers to its restaurants for the first time. The continuity of the new campaign with the chain's existing philosophy made the undertaking especially favorable. As John Barker, Wendy's vice president of investor relations, told Nation's Restaurant News, the Fresh Stuffed Pita line "reinforces Wendy's unique position in the market in that it's fresh and made-to-order."

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

The story of Wendy's marketing success was, in many ways, the story of founder Thomas. His blend of folksy charm and down-home homilies gave Wendy's campaigns their unique appeal and made him one of advertising's icons. "More than anything, I'm a marketer," Thomas confessed in his 1991 memoir, Dave's Way. His nose for promotion served as one of the pillars of Wendy's success.

The adopted son of an itinerant handyman, Thomas developed his love for the restaurant business early in life. In 1948 he dropped out of high school to work full-time in the industry. His big break occurred when he became a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisee. Thomas was schooled at the knee of Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of the chain of fast-food restaurants. Sanders's dedication to promoting his business became the template for Thomas's own marketing approach.

Using money he earned from turning around failing Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises, Thomas opened his first Wendy's in 1969. Named for one of his daughters, the burger-and-fries operation rapidly expanded from its Midwestern base. Advertising, along with shrewd menu innovations, were integral to the company's early growth. For the first eight years of its existence, however, Wendy's had no national advertising. Its commercials appeared only on local television and radio. The company's first nationally televised commercial, titled "Hot 'n Juicy," aired in April 1977. The $4 million inaugural campaign ran from 1977 to 1980, won a Clio Award for creativity, and established national name recognition for the fledgling company.

In 1981 the newly assertive company switched gears, debuting a glitzy Hollywood-style campaign that had employees and customers singing the jingle "Wendy's Has the Taste." A salad bar and chicken sandwich were featured in the advertising. Thomas also made his first appearance in a commercial. In each ad he related one of his basic business maxims. "Now given that," went the tag line, "why would anyone go anyplace else?" The camera then moved to one of several dining room scenes, where customers explained that there "Ain't No Reason" to go anyplace else. The use of the colloquial "ain't no" created substantial national and local publicity. The company's next campaign, "Wendy's Kind of People," debuted in June 1982. Its folksy theme was used in many later advertising, public relations, and sales promotion projects. In that same year Thomas became senior chairman of the company and gave up running the day-to-day operations. He would not appear in a Wendy's ad for the next seven years.

In the summer of 1983 Wendy's entered what were called the burger wars with a series of biting ads depicting the customer as a victim of "those other hamburger places." Hapless consumers were ordered to "step aside" or "park it" and wait for "frozen stiff" hamburgers. In January 1984 Wendy's unveiled its most famous campaign, indeed one of the singular campaigns in advertising history. The aim was to attack the misconception that Wendy's single hamburger was smaller than competitors' "big-name" hamburgers. Created by Dancer Fitzgerald Sample and the director Josef Sedelmaier, the man behind the FedEx famous fast talker, the "Where's the Beef?" campaign consisted at first of four commercials featuring 70-something actress Clara Peller and sidekicks Mildred Lane and Elizabeth Shaw.

Few marketing campaigns have hammered home the concept of bang-for-the-buck as effectively as "Where's the Beef?" The ads made a national folk heroine out of the feisty, diminutive Peller and spawned a catchphrase that ranked with the most memorable in advertising history. Before Peller brayed her way into the nation's consciousness, only 37 percent of American consumers were familiar with Wendy's advertising. After the debut of "Where's the Beef?" the figure jumped to 60 percent. But the impact of "Where's the Beef?" transcended the fast-food industry. The phrase was soon appearing everywhere, from bumper stickers to Sunday morning sermons. The tag line even appeared in the 1984 presidential campaign, when Democratic aspirant Walter Mondale used it to tweak rival Gary Hartin a televised debate. "I'm happy to say the slogan worked better for us than it did for Mr. Mondale," cracked Thomas in his memoir.

Wendy's did not rest on its "Where's the Beef?" laurels, however. It continued to produce unique, quirky ads that garnered industry accolades. In December 1984 Wendy's rolled out a series of humorous spots for chicken sandwiches under the banner "Parts Is Parts." It was another Clio winner. In 1985 Wendy's even managed to incorporate political humor into its advertising. Its commercial "Russian Fashion Show" lampooned the dreary monotony of life under the Soviet jackboot. This spot also won a Clio.

In June 1987 Wendy's introduced the "Hamburger A, Hamburger B" campaign, in which an interviewer asked people to choose between a fresh Wendy's hamburger and an unappealing hamburger made from frozen beef, presumably produced by one of the chain's rivals. With the burger wars having subsided, however, Wendy's returned to its folksy approach. In April 1989 Thomas returned in a series of ads in which he offered a money-back guarantee if consumers did not agree that Wendy's had the best tasting hamburgers in the business. Nearly 400 consumers nationwide took part in the accompanying testimonial campaign, one of the largest such campaigns in television history.

Wendy's next campaign, "Old Fashioned Guy," continued along the same line. The ads placed Thomas in a Wendy's restaurant expounding on his "old-fashioned philosophy" of making hamburgers. After asking people to "come on in" for an old-fashioned hamburger, Thomas concluded the ads by saying, "Our hamburgers are the best in the business, or I wouldn't have named the place after my daughter." Thomas's return could not have come at a better time for Wendy's. Sales throughout the fast-food sector had slowed, and it was believed that the burger war ads had taken Wendy's too far afield from its traditional strengths. With Thomas's return—and an aggressive quality control initiative that saw him spending 35 weeks a year schmoozing with franchisees—systemwide sales jumped to more than $3 billion in 1990, a 29 percent increase from the year before. Competitors' sales remained flat.

In the 1990s, despite suffering a serious heart attack, the genial Thomas continued to star in Wendy's ads. The founder's credibility as a spokesperson helped Wendy's to consistently increase its advertising awareness figures, surpassing even the "Where's the Beef?" campaign. As the decade wore on, the commercials began to emphasize the wide variety of Wendy's menu items, from specialty sandwiches such as Monterey Ranch Chicken to the Super Value Menu to the highly touted launch of stuffed pita sandwiches in 1997.

TARGET MARKET

In the 1990s Wendy's was among the leaders in fast-food franchises in responding to the needs of health-conscious consumers. As consumer tastes turned away from beef—and in the face of threats of increases in the price of beef—the company began to incorporate more chicken into its menu items. The marriage of chicken with salad on a light flatbread in the Fresh Stuffed Pita seemed tailor-made for a market that wanted a low-fat, low-cholesterol sandwich. "Fresh Stuffed Pitas provide Wendy's with a very attractive alternative to the typical fast food hamburger fare," observed Mitchell B. Pinheiro, an analyst with Janney Montgomery Scott, in a 1997 report on the company.

Early consumer tracking showed that the sandwiches were most in favor among young women, who had traditionally gravitated toward low-fat, salad-based products. Salad lovers who would not normally patronize fast-food restaurants soon became a valuable segment of the market as well. In an all-things-to-everyone approach, Wendy's spokespeople positioned Fresh Stuffed Pitas as the perfect choice for those who wanted a filling sandwich that was also light and easy to eat.

COMPETITION

As the 1990s wore on, McDonald's embarked on a series of aggressive marketing campaigns that threatened to cut into Wendy's profit margins. Wendy's response to the threat was to diversify its menu even further. This strategy represented a counterattack against McDonald's, which in the eyes of many industry observers had for too long failed to innovate in the development of products.

VEGETARIAN OR NOT?

The public expected a product called Garden Veggie Pita and designated as "vegetarian" on a brochure not to contain meat. Wendy's faced a public relations firestorm when it was revealed that this particular pita contained a gelatin additive made from animal byproducts. Some consumers had complained when they noticed that the dressing on the sandwich wraps seemed thicker and more saucelike than customary vegetarian toppings. After fielding numerous complaints, Wendy's admitted that the dressing was derived from hide, beaks, and connective tissue, ingredients usually earmarked for pet food. The company agreed to retire the gelatin-based dressing once existing stocks ran out, and competing chains that also used animal extracts in vegetarian entrees rushed to change their practices as well.

A report by Everen Securities analyst Dean T. Haskell in the spring of 1997 found that McDonald's domestic operations were under intense competitive pressure from other major fast-food chains. "Competitive pressure in the United States persists because of a continuing proliferation of chain restaurants and weak consumer spending," Haskell observed. "Competitors of McDonald's are also building aggressively, using traditional and nontraditional units to penetrate markets." While McDonald's own growth remained solid, it found its competitive position jeopardized by such innovations as value pricing and menu diversification. Wendy's introduction of the Fresh Stuffed Pita in 1997 was only the latest in a series of product rollouts designed to take advantage of this competitive atmosphere.

MARKETING STRATEGY

Fresh Stuffed Pitas were initially test-marketed in Norfolk, Virginia, and Omaha, Nebraska, in January 1996. After receiving a favorable response, they were added to the menus of Wendy's franchises in eight other markets in the fall of 1996. They were priced from $1.99 to $2.99 and carried a low food cost, meaning that there would be relatively high margins if the line sold at all. Wendy's officials hoped to have the sandwiches replace the higher-cost salad bars still in place in many franchises.

By April 1997 Wendy's entire 4,400-unit U.S. system was in the training stage for the rollout. While there was initial reluctance on the part of some franchisees regarding the adjustments in operations required for the new product, strong, incremental sales gains based only on point-of-purchase advertising soon eased their reservations. "What we're doing is gradually increasing demand for the pita as stores gradually get used to carrying it, so the operations don't suffer," explained Wendy's Barker.

Promotional materials provided to franchisees stressed the fun of eating the sandwich. One promotion showed a cartoon Thomas dryly instructing consumers "how to eat a pita." Dummy press releases were designed to announce the launch of Fresh Stuffed Pitas in each market, while the entire press package was festooned with the legend "Fresh Like a Salad, Filling Like a Sandwich."

Once the entire Wendy's system became accustomed to assembling the pitas, the company launched television advertising. The New York-based agency Bates Worldwide designed the ads, which debuted in the spring of 1997. The initial spot featured Thomas explaining the concept of "a salad in a sandwich." A subsequent ad had him settling an argument between a young couple over whether the new product was a salad or a sandwich. "It's both," says a reassuring Thomas. Other spots in the national campaign showed Thomas donning a series of disguises and making a big announcement about the pita line to a gathering of Wendy's employees.

OUTCOME

Given the high-profile rollout of the ads, public response to the "Fresh Stuffed Pita" campaign was something of a disappointment. USA Today's Ad Track measured the popularity and effectiveness of the new ads. Its initial findings indicated that only 16 percent of respondents liked the commercials a great deal, while 26 percent found them effective. Older consumers responded more favorably than did younger consumers, with 24 percent of those over age 50 saying they liked the ads a lot.

Analysts differed over whether the product or the pitch was responsible for the lukewarm response to the ads. Carlie Rath, Wendy's executive vice president of marketing, told USA Today, "We realize the pita is a product that isn't going to appeal to all of our customers." While conceding that Thomas was one of the most recognizable chief executives in America, marketing consultant Lynn Upshaw felt that Wendy's "may need to re-examine how they can best use his image. That's one of the pitfalls of any long-running campaign."

Nevertheless, Wendy's declared the campaign a sales success. Certainly the early sales returns were favorable. A report by analyst Pinheiro found that Wendy's same-store sales had increased 9.1 percent in the first quarter of 1997. The growth was accompanied by a 6.6 percent increase in transactions. "Even more interesting is that the company has achieved these transaction gains while initiating some price increases," Pinheiro noted. "We cannot name another quick-serve restaurant chain that has been able to raise prices, a testament to the underlying strength of the concept." While declining to issue specific numbers, Wendy's acknowledged that, as of November 1997, pita sales were meeting or exceeding its own projections.

FURTHER READING

Enrico, Dottie. "Consumers Bought Into Real-World Ads in '97." USA Today, December 29, 1997.

――――――. "Dave Comes Up Flat as Wendy's Pita Pusher." USA Today, November 3, 1997.

Hamstra, Mark. "Wendy's Blends Elements of Salad and Sandwich in New Pita Promo." Nation's Restaurant News, March 31, 1997.

Killian, Linda. "Hamburger Helper." Forbes, August 5, 1991, p. 106.

Mulrine, Anna. "Psst. About That Veggie Pita." U.S. News & World Report, July 8, 1997.

Pollack, Judann, and Mark Gleason. "Wendy's, McDonald's Seek New Menu Sizzle." Advertising Age, March 5, 1997, p. 12.

Ross, Chuck. "Wendy's Shifts National Media Back to Bates." Advertising Age, March 5, 1997, p. 1.

                                      Robert Schnakenberg

GOOD TO BE SQUARE CAMPAIGN

OVERVIEW

Wendy's International, Inc., was the United States' third-largest burger chain in the early 2000s, and it had a reputation for high-quality food that was the envy of the industry. The public face of the Wendy's brand was company founder Dave Thomas, who, with his folksy persona and rags-to-riches success story, had become an icon inseparable from the Wendy's brand, thanks to his starring role in a 12-year advertising campaign. Thomas's death in 2002 thus left Wendy's without a clear voice or direction in its marketing, a problem that was compounded by the growing marketing effectiveness of competitors McDonald's and Burger King. In 2005, as a means of updating the Wendy's image, the company and its agency, the New York office of McCann-Erickson Worldwide, introduced a comprehensive advertising platform under the tagline "Do What Tastes Right." Designed to speak in different ways to different target groups, it was particularly noteworthy for its inclusion of an online, viral (designed to be passed around by consumers via E-mail and other means), and TV campaign called "Good to Be Square."

"Good to Be Square" targeted young adults, especially males, prime consumers of fast food whom Wendy's had not effectively reached with preceding campaigns. All elements of the campaign were built around a central conceit in which an animated character called Smart Square (modeled after the square hamburger patties characteristic of Wendy's) demonstrated his superiority to throngs of round "Beadicons" (circular figures meant to evoke competitors' hamburgers). "Good to Be Square" began as an unbranded website featuring a short film and other elements that could be transmitted to other Internet users via E-mail. Soon after the site's launch in mid-May 2005, TV spots featuring Smart Square and the Beadicons began appearing, and the website became a branded one linked to the main Wendy's site.

Although "Good to Be Square" and the larger shift in Wendy's marketing strategy were seen as promising steps toward the goal of establishing a clear and updated brand identity, Wendy's in 2005 experienced its first full-year sales decline since 1987. This outcome was at least partly explained, however, by strengthened competition from McDonald's and Burger King as well as by a hoax that had damaged the chain's reputation among consumers in the spring of that year.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Wendy's became America's third-biggest fast-food chain thanks in large part to its founder, Dave Thomas. Thomas began working in inexpensive restaurants at age 12 and did not finish high school. In 1969, after years of restaurant toil, he opened his own establishment, the original Wendy's, in Columbus, Ohio. Although the restaurant chain's extreme growth in subsequent decades lifted Thomas far above his roots, his humble background and no-nonsense personality continued to infuse the corporate culture, and arguably the food, at Wendy's.

The chain was known as a higher-quality alternative to competitors Burger King and McDonald's, a perception reinforced by the classic advertising campaign "Where's the Beef?" which used humor to posit that competitors' hamburgers fell far short of the standard set by Wendy's. Wendy's likewise augmented the industry-standard burger-and-fries offerings with a focus on chicken sandwiches and such items as chili, baked potatoes, and salads, which strengthened its image as an upscale fast-food chain and contributed to a corresponding impression that its food was healthier than that on offer at McDonald's or Burger King. Beginning in 1989 Wendy's and its advertising agency, the New York office of Bates Worldwide, linked this reputation for food quality with the personality of founder Thomas, who became the public face of the brand in its TV commercials. The spots depicted Thomas in a variety of humorous scenarios that demonstrated his honesty, commitment to quality, and lack of pretension, attributes that were successfully integrated into the Wendy's identity over the 12-year course of the campaign's run.

Thomas's death in 2002 therefore left Wendy's at a marketing crossroads. Because he served as the Wendy's spokesman, Thomas had become virtually synonymous with the chain itself, and there was no clear way to extend his legacy in future advertising campaigns or to promote an identity apart from his personality, at least in the years immediately following his death. Although the chain continued to perform well in 2002 and 2003, it struggled to find a consistent advertising strategy. In 2004 Wendy's settled on a new campaign featuring an "unofficial" spokesman, the fictional Mr. Wendy, who proselytized on behalf of the chain's food despite having been issued a cease-and-desist order from the corporate office. In TV, print, and online components crafted by the New York office of McCann-Erickson Worldwide for a family audience, Mr. Wendy was shown zealously encouraging people to try Wendy's against backdrops ranging from a Little League game to a Hollywood party. The Mr. Wendy concept was intended to provide a long-running framework for a variety of product pitches, as the commercials featuring Thomas had done. The campaign corresponded with surprisingly sharp sales declines, however, and many observers complained that Mr. Wendy represented a feeble and less-than-subtle attempt to replace Thomas. The campaign was pulled within a year of its introduction.

Wendy's faced additional problems during this time. McDonald's and Burger King had both found effective marketing messages at the same time that they were closing the perceived gap in menu quality that had historically set Wendy's apart from them. A March 2005 hoax in which a woman claimed to have found a severed finger in a bowl of Wendy's chili further damaged Wendy's brand image and proved temporarily devastating to sales chainwide. In May 2005 Wendy's and McCann-Erickson unveiled a new umbrella campaign called "Do What Tastes Right." In addition to marking a substantial break in tone from past advertising, "Do What Tastes Right" was projected to provide flexibility for speaking to different target groups with different creative strategies.

TARGET MARKET

Although "Do What Tastes Right" featured a variety of creative executions and placements for different target markets, one of the overall goals of the campaign was to reach males aged 18 to 34. Wendy's recognized that it had not effectively targeted this younger market with the folksy, family-oriented advertising of the Thomas era and of the Mr. Wendy campaign, and "Good to Be Square" represented the chain's most daring and offbeat attempt to reach this younger audience. A combined Internet, TV, and viral campaign, "Good to Be Square" showed that Wendy's was cognizant of this target group's growing preference for online entertainment over watching television. Young adults were also among the most finicky of American consumers, in part, it was believed, because they were suspicious of traditional marketing techniques. The online portion of the campaign, accessible at www.goodtobesquare.com, thus offered entertainment—a short animated film as well as interactive functions featuring the character Smart Square and the hapless round "Beadicons" surrounding him—rather than overt branding.

DAVE THOMAS, 1932–2002

A portly older man in an unstylish short-sleeved dress shirt and tie, Dave Thomas, as the longtime TV spokesman for his burger chain Wendy's, came across as a straight-talking everyman. His unassuming exterior was all the more appealing for being paired with one of the most compelling rags-to-riches stories in corporate America. An orphan whose adoptive mother died when he was five, Thomas lived in a succession of Midwestern towns as his father struggled to hold a steady job, and the two ate dinner at inexpensive diners and family restaurants every night. This gave the boy a sense of being at home in such establishments, and he began working in the restaurant industry at age 12, dropping out of school in the 10th grade to support himself by working in a restaurant. Even once Thomas had become one of America's most successful entrepreneurs, he exuded humility and authenticity. Adweek magazine critic Barbara Lippert said of the Wendy's commercials in which Thomas starred, "Even though the spots were only mildly smile-producing, that aggregate of genuine Daveness is what resonated: It made the commercials feel like home, like what Dave was looking for all his life."

COMPETITION

Although McDonald's was the U.S. fast-food-industry leader with more than double the estimated market share of Burger King and more than three times that of Wendy's in 2003 (43.1 percent versus 18.5 percent and 13.2 percent, respectively), it had seen sales flag in recent years at least partly because of a wider consumer backlash against fast foods that were perceived as unhealthy. Wendy's had been well positioned, thanks to its salads and other comparatively healthy menu options, to cope with changing consumer tastes, but in 2003 McDonald's began to engineer a sales turnaround that surprised analysts and threatened Wendy's positioning. A key part of the McDonald's resurgence was an updating of its menu: notably, the chain introduced a line of premium salads, reformulated its Chicken McNuggets to consist exclusively of white meat, and introduced sandwiches featuring whole-breast chicken fillets. This menu overhaul allowed the burger giant to claim many of the product-quality and health attributes that had long set Wendy's apart in the category. A well-received advertising campaign tagged "I'm Lovin' It" drew attention to the product innovations with help from celebrities including tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams and basketball star Yao Ming. McDonald's posted sales gains of $2 billion in 2004, for a sales total of $24.4 billion, larger than sales totals of its three top challengers—Burger King, Wendy's, and Subway—combined. McDonald's continued to post consistent sales growth in 2005 and was almost universally believed to be well positioned for future category dominance.

After experiencing sales declines in 2003 that left total revenues at $7.9 billion compared with $8.3 billion for 2002, Burger King was, like Wendy's, attempting to find a new direction for its marketing in 2004. It moved its advertising account from Chicago's Young & Rubicam to Miami's Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Then the company revived a long-running tagline from previous years, "Have It Your Way," and used it to promote the chain's chicken-based menu items with a much-publicized online and viral campaign aimed at young adults. Called "Subservient Chicken," the campaign featured a website, www.subservientchicken.com, where users could manipulate visuals of a human in a chicken suit. Web surfers could command the chicken to perform a number of actions, including dancing, watching television, and doing push-ups. The site's designers had programmed the chicken to respond to lewd or inappropriate commands with a disapproving wag of his wing, and a webcam frame made the chicken appear to be conscious of the Web surfers who gave him commands. Within eight days of the website's launch on April 7, 2004, it had attracted 15 to 20 million hits. The campaign was credited with helping the Burger King brand connect to young males and with sparking sustained growth over the next year. "Subservient Chicken" also won numerous advertising awards and was an obvious influence on Wendy's' entry into the world of viral marketing the following year.

MARKETING STRATEGY

In keeping with the larger "Do What Tastes Right" directive to focus on the chain's food, the "Good to Be Square" concept was rooted in the trademark square shape of Wendy's burgers. Online and TV executions were centered on the character Smart Square, a simple animated, square-shaped figure with arms, legs, an impassive facial expression, and a self-assured baritone voice. Smart Square was surrounded by Beadicons, circle-shaped characters evocative of other burger patties. The Beadicons were anxiety-ridden and ineffectual and could communicate only via tiny chirps and squeals.

"Good to Be Square" was launched simultaneously with the larger "Do What Tastes Right" effort in mid-May of 2005. Originally website banners featuring a visual of Smart Square against a red background encouraged users to link to the "Good to Be Square" website, which at that point was unbranded. The 60-second film available for viewing there likewise contained no references to Wendy's, instead following Smart Square as he helped the hapless Beadicons solve a variety of problems: he effortlessly found a needle in a haystack for them, saved a group of Beadicons stranded in a boat by kicking an oar to them in one swift motion, and opened a gate that had been stymieing a bunch of Beadicons. Once he had opened the gate, a crowd of Beadicons slavishly followed him into a flowering meadow. As they gathered around him, a rainbow emerged in the background, and Smart Square coolly asked, "Why? Why are they following me?" The film's soundtrack was the upbeat 1970s song "Ooh Child," by the Five Stairsteps, whose reassuring message that "things are gonna get easier" corresponded with Smart Square's problem-solving efforts. The website's viral components included a feature enabling viewers to E-mail the website link to friends as well as downloadable images of Smart Square and the Beadicons making a variety of expressions.

"Good to Be Square" content later moved to branded TV spots. Like the online film, the TV spots showed Smart Square surrounded by squeaking circular Beadicons and demonstrating that he was far more self-assured and capable than they were, but in ways that more overtly pushed a Wendy's food-quality message. One spot featured Smart Square singing, "It takes flair to be a square … it's better than being round or being a king or a clown" ("king" and "clown" being references, respectively, to Burger King and the McDonald's mascot, Ronald McDonald). Smart Square's song closed with images of actual Wendy's burgers and the casually intoned command "Eat me." Another TV spot showed the circular Beadicons sweating and worrying under heat lamps before Smart Square appeared, saying, "If heat lamps have this much power over little animated circle people, you can just imagine what they do to your hamburger." This was a reference to new grilling equipment that Wendy's had installed in its restaurants, allowing for faster food preparation and making heat lamps unnecessary. The TV spots ran under the "Do What Tastes Right" tagline and directed viewers to the website www.goodtobesquare.com. The "Good to Be Square" website thus became branded with the Wendy's name and was linked to the main company site. The TV spots were made available for viewing on www.goodtobesquar-e.com, and the initial film was still available but with branded Wendy's elements added at its conclusion.

Wendy's did not disclose budget figures for "Good to Be Square" or "Do What Tastes Right," suggesting only that the new umbrella campaign marked an increase over the brand's typical yearly ad spend of between $350 and $400 million. "Good to Be Square" was, however, certainly a more cost-effective campaign than a traditional media effort would have been, because its online components required no purchasing of broadcast time and its viral components relied on Web users themselves to spread the word about the campaign.

OUTCOME

Although "Good to Be Square" and the larger shift in the tone of Wendy's advertising were generally well received, in 2005 the chain posted its first full-year sales loss—a decline of 3.7 percent—in 18 years. Wendy's cited the increased competition from McDonald's and Burger King as well as the ruse about the human finger in Wendy's chili as the reasons for the losses, and the company continued to develop its "Do What Tastes Right" marketing platform.

FURTHER READING

Cebrzynski, Gregg. "Wendy's Revamps Ad, Media Strategies to Zero in on Diverse Targets." Nation's Restaurant News, May 30, 2005.

Garfield, Bob. "Seven Things Wendy's Commercials Do Right." Advertising Age, May 23, 2005.

Gibson, Richard. "Wendy's Faces Advertising Dilemma." Wall Street Journal, November 10, 2004.

Hein, Kenneth. "Big Boys (and Bigger Burgers) Are Back!" Brandweek, June 20, 2005.

――――――. "Fast Food." Brandweek, April 25, 2005.

Howard, Theresa. "'Viral' Ads Are So Fun You Pass 'Em Along." USA Today, May 19, 2005.

Lippert, Barbara. "The Natural." Adweek, January 14, 2002.

MacArthur, Kate. "As Sales Slip, Wendy's Revamps Brand Team." Advertising Age, October 31, 2005.

――――――. "Rowden Grabs Wendy's Collar, Yanks It Forward." Advertising Age, June 27, 2005.

――――――. "Salad Days at McDonald's." Advertising Age, December 13, 2004.

――――――. "Wendy's Struggles to Serve Up Success." Advertising Age, February 21, 2005.

Steinberg, Brian, and Suzanne Vranica. "Burger King Seeks Some Web Heat; Interactive Site Is Created to Promote Chicken Items to Young-Adult Market." Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2004.

                                               Mark Lane