Sometimes we have debates about the right tone to strike when writing our Weekly Thoughts newsletter. On one hand, we think it is important to convey the seriousness of purpose with which we take our investments and our companies. On the other hand, we also think it’s important that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. This tension sparks quite a lot of internal banter about the balance between what is “putting our best foot forward” and what is just boring.
As we continue to figure out our brand personality, we were interested to learn more about Wendy’s fairly aggressive marketing strategy, which has recently gotten a considerable amount of attention. Last year, when @McDonalds announced on Twitter that “by mid-2018, all Quarter Pounder burgers at the majority of our restaurants will be cooked with fresh beef”, @Wendy’s responded “So you’ll still use frozen beef in MOST of your burgers in ALL of your restaurants? Asking for a friend.” Wendy’s snark is not limited to competitors: when one user asked, “My friend wants to go to McDonalds, what should I tell him?” @Wendy’s quickly responded, “Find new friends.”
While this approach has gotten a lot of media coverage recently, as best we can tell, the strategy actually seems to be an extension of a 2009 brand turnaround when the company recommitted itself to emphasizing fresh (i.e., “Fresh, Never Frozen”) and real (“You know when it’s real”). Former CMO Ken Calwell, who left the company in 2011, provided some insights:
“We did that purposefully. When we talked to consumers, we thought of a really neat insight, which was, ‘Consumers themselves know when it’s real and they know when it’s not.’ We wanted to give them that credibility, so [in the advertising] we don’t have to tell them: ‘We’re Wendy’s. We’re the real ones.’”
Wendy’s approach to “fresh” and “real” has now extended beyond its food offerings to become a full-blown brand personality. For instance, Wendy’s recently, and somewhat unexpectedly, dropped rap mixtapes available on Spotify with titles such as “Twitter Fingers” and “Rest in Grease”, which are surprisingly catchy, and ruthlessly attack competitors (i.e., on McDonalds: “Boy, we tried your food, where the flavor at? / You number 1? That’s a joke / Why yo’ ice cream machine always broke? / Why yo’ drive thu always slow?/ Why yo’ innovation just can’t grow? / It’s queen Wendy, need I say mo’?”). Expanding on the “fresh” theme during March Madness, the company collaborated with a popular streetwear designer to create t-shirts featuring a red “W” on a basketball so fans could look “fresh”.
Contrasted with the safe, generic, sometimes stale marketing coming out of most institutions, Wendy’s consistently quick-witted snarky style has been incredibly effective, causing more people to follow, and engage with, the brand if only to request a “roast” of their own.
There are obviously risks involved with such a bold strategy – namely that a poorly worded comment will backfire horribly and damage the brand – but it seems that Wendy’s approach has succeeded in connecting the company with its target demographic more fully. We would argue the recent evolution of its social media persona did not come about overnight, but rather is the outcome of the “fresh” and “real” ethos that has been rooted in Wendy’s longstanding brand strategy for some time. For Chenmark, the lesson here is not that we need to adopt a Wendy’s level of extreme sass in all aspects of our newsletter. Rather, it’s a reminder that as long as we maintain a strong sense of our fundamental identity, we should also embrace opportunities to iterate around it for years to come.
Have a great week,
Your Chenmark Capital Team
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