Why ‘Freshness’ Is Wendy’s New Marketing Ingredient

Wendy’s has unleashed a new campaign touting its new slogan, “You know when it’s real.” Ads via The Kaplan Thaler Group, New York, show consumers smartly pointing out the “reals” and “fakes” in everyday situations. (Examples include a child pokes a woman masquerading as the Statue of Liberty; a bald man’s wig blows off.) The fast feeder is trying to get the point across that consumers can just as easily tell when restaurants use real or frozen ingredients, said Wendy’s CMO Ken Calwell in an interview with Brandweek. The campaign promoting Wendy’s “real, never frozen beef” and other steps the chain is taking—including a robust product pipeline, and upgrades to its hamburgers and French fries—are  part of a larger brand overhaul. Calwell, who previously headed up new products and marketing research at Wendy’s, recalled a time when the chain was absolutely thriving compared to McDonald’s and Burger King. Over time, though, and especially after its founder, Dave Thomas, passed away, Wendy’s lost its brand positioning and now it’s in need of a major revamp. Calwell, who returned to Wendy’s in 2008, talked about some of these changes, as well how the new slogan is intended to stand out from the competition. Excerpts from that conversation are below:

Brandweek: Wendy’s campaign touting freshness is actually part of a brand turnaround plan. Why so?
Ken Calwell:
When I came back to Wendy’s [in Aug. 2008 things were different.] When I was at Wendy’s in the 1990s, I was in charge of the new products and market research…[and back then] things were rockin’ for Wendy’s. We had strong sales and growing sales, and for a long time, we were outgrowing McDonald’s and Burger King. In my view, that’s because we had a very strong sense of who we were as a brand at that time. We knew what our brand was and what our brand was not.

BW: And this is the first major advertising component in that brand turnaround plan. Why so?
KC:
When you turn a brand around, you can’t do it with an ad campaign alone. The first thing we did was we set up a group of 11 priorities. And there were four that really led to this campaign.

BW: And what were they?
KC:
No 1. was to really define what our brand vision was in a clear, fully researched way, and so, we did a ton of consumer research. We talked to more than 10,000 consumers, plus all the research we did with our franchisees and this is the most extensive and comprehensive research project we’ve done in the history of Wendy’s. And that’s because I believe that we need to get a foundational view of what our brand is and what it’s not, and what it all leverages off of and there was no lapse of positive things that people said about our brand. There are brands that have a few strong equities and some that have a lot. But when we talked to consumers, what we heard was, “Wendy’s? The food is a little better there.” “They’ve got better ingredients, fresher stuff.” “The salads are a little better.” “Don’t they have the fresh, never frozen beef?” We heard things about Dave [Thomas, Wendy’s founder and former brand spokesperson], our hot, juicy hamburgers and [all the] little better ingredients that were in there. A lot of different things people said about the brand were very positive, but what we were looking for were the unifying themes or things that tied it together. And it was this: “They use the real stuff, the real ingredients.” It’s real fresh, never frozen beef, not the frozen stuff competitors use. It’s owned by this real guy, his name was Dave and he named it after his real daughter, Wendy. And they cook it in a real kitchen, in a real oven, and how that really came together was, people, more than ever now, are really looking at ingredient labels. They care about the foods they eat and where that food comes from, where it’s sourced from—some for health reasons and some because they just want to know more…So all the brand work we did really came down to people looking for the real thing…And so, the brand positioning we came up with was people are looking for real choices in fast food.