Wendy’s Confirms Account Shift

NEW YORK Wendy’s International has confirmed that it is shifting its creative and media accounts from Interpublic Group’s McCann Erickson and Universal McCann to three other agencies.

Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi and MDC Partners’ Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners will share creative duties while Publicis’ MediaVest will assume planning and buying chores, the company said.

In a statement, Wendy’s CMO Ian Rowden said, “We have implemented a new brand strategy, filled our new product pipeline and have taken many steps to strengthen Wendy’s relevance with consumers. Now, that a turnaround has taken place in our business, we believe the timing is right to seek new resources to take our advertising efforts to the next level.”

He added, “This move will give the Wendy’s brand greater access to the diverse talent, expertise and perspectives that come from having a broader agency lineup.” Rowden said the company appreciated McCann’s efforts.

The Vidal Partnership in New York will continue as Wendy’s Hispanic shop.

Wendy’s spends about $400 million in U.S. measured media, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

However, a McCann representative said, “We do not handle local and field marketing. We only handle national advertising. LNA figures cite $240 million for national advertising media spending.”

A Wendy’s rep declined comment on media spending but confirmed that various agencies other than McCann handle regional assignments.

The account has been a roller-coaster ride for the agency for two years, sources said, as Wendy’s struggled to craft a marketing message that would resonate with consumers. That challenge began after its founder and CEO Dave Thomas, who was also the face of the brand’s advertising for more than a decade, passed away in 2002, the same year McCann won the account after a review.

In an attempt to replace Thomas as the face of Wendy’s, McCann produced a campaign to introduce a fanatical, fictional character who called himself “Mr. Wendy.” The campaign, tagged, “It’s better here,” broke in February 2004 but failed to connect with consumers and was pulled after nine months.

Same-store sales were down for much of 2005, the same year a California woman claimed to have found a human finger in a cup of Wendy’s chili. She was arrested when those allegations proved to be false.

The chain struggled for months to combat the damage in negative publicity from the incident. It tried to stem the tide of slipping sales by introducing new menu offerings such as deli sandwiches and breakfast items in 2006.

McCann’s current “Do what tastes right” ads represent a youth-targeted, food-centric campaign that uses humor to convey the quality of Wendy’s meals.

By July, same-store sales improved, and that trend continued through the end of the year.

“Wendy’s has had a lot of turbulence in their business and their management over the last couple of years,” said Brett Gosper, president of McCann in the U.S. “There’s been a new CMO, a new CEO and a new COO as well as new hedge fund board members. We understand the pressures that these events have had on Wendy’s executives. Nevertheless, Wendy’s decision, coming as it does amid huge signs that we’ve contributed to a turnaround of their business, is surprising and disappointing.”

He added, “We’re proud of the work we’ve done and pleased to have contributed to their turnaround.”

Rowden joined Wendy’s in December 2004 from Calloway Golf. He had a prior relationship with McCann Erickson while he was worldwide director of advertising at Coca-Cola from 1995 until 2000. In that time, McCann was among the Coke roster agencies, but Rowden was a key decision maker in awarding U.S. lead creative duties on Coke Classic to Cliff Freeman and Partners in 2000.

Wendy’s is the No. 3 hamburger chain in terms of sales behind McDonald’s and Burger King. It has 6,700 restaurants worldwide.

This story updates an item posted earlier today with client confirmation and additional details about the shift.