In January it will have been ten years since the passing of Wendy's founder Dave Thomas. Without him, Wendy's has gone back and forth in its campaigns, looking for the grounding and homey heritage that Thomas brought the brand.
Now Wendy's is reaching into its history to push a burger named after its well-liked pitch man. This campaign is a meal deal, served with a side of even more of its past. But going on its 12th quarter of flat or lower revenue at its restaurants, will the new sell of an old brand be enough to make the burger a hit?
Named Dave’s Hot ‘N Juicy, the new burger features more cheese, buttered bun and more beef. The remake was hardly done on a whim. The project goes back to 2009 and even had a code name: "Project Gold Hamburger."
Wendy's pitch for the burger makeover: "We've gone back to the grill to make our classic cheeseburger thicker, hotter and juicier than ever. We've added new premium toppings like crinkle cut pickles, crisp red onions, and a warm buttered, toasted bun. Dave's Hot 'N Juicy Cheeseburgers are our hottest and juiciest in 40 years!"
The exclamation mark lets you know they're serious. To compliment the reengineering of the burger itself, Wendy's is betting everything on nostalgia.
With the tagline "You can't fake real" Wendy's branding gambit is to, even as it launches a new product, remind consumers what made the Wendy's brand great: authenticity. Authenticity and Dave Thomas.
To this end, Wendy's has not only named the burger after its founder, but also is putting his daughter, after which Wendy's is named, front and center to stress the connection. This is the first time Wendy's has used the real Wendy in its advertising, by the way.
The nod to her father and showing the original Wendy all grown up is a far more sincere shift by the brand when compared to the irreverent, cheeky treatment it had for its mascot just a few years ago.
In addition to leaning on Dave's legacy, Wendy's is doubling down on its past by resurrecting its "Where's the beef?" tagline with a campaign that rolled out on Twitter. The new "Where's the beef?" ad which debuted during last night's Sunday Night Football is a play on Wendy's iconic 1984 original, one of the most famous ads of all time.
While serviceable, the new "Where's the beef?" campaign does not seem to truly exploit the concept and legacy to its full potential. This is one of the best-known and enjoyable campaigns of all time, and "Here's the beef" is all there is to offer?
Of course, the paradox is that those old enough to get the joke will be disappointed by the update ... and those who don't know the legacy won't get the joke. Many, clearly, get the reference. The brand has been running a Facebook promotion, during which 50,000 of those retro t-shirts were snapped up today in under three hours, at the brisk rate of 300 a minute:
Pegging one's current and future brand value to one's past is a risky, sometimes last ditch, maneuver by a brand with no new ideas. But in Wendy's case, it may be less of a case of a brand flailing for a life preserver of value positioning, than one that lost its way and is now coming back to the principles that made it great in the first place. In some cases, you can go home again, particularly if you have a heartwarming brand story and legacy to go home to.
What's more (we think!) Dave would be proud of his daughter's involvement as a nod to his legacy, and the return to the brand's roots. Your thoughts?