Wendy's Taps Kaplan Thaler for Creative

As Fast Feeder Sees Sales Gains, It Turns to Publicis Shop for 'Next Step' of Turnaround Plan

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Fast feeder Wendy's International has handed creative duties on its $300 million marketing account to Publicis Groupe's Kaplan Thaler Group.

It's a high-profile win for Kaplan Thaler, which adds Wendy's to a roster of clients that include Aflac, Continental Airlines and Trojan condoms. The agency triumphed over a number of shops, including the incumbent, Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, owned by MDC Partners; Interpublic Group of Cos.' Martin Agency; Publicis-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty; and West Coast independent Venables Bell & Partners.

Wendy's

The appointment, Wendy's Chief Marketing Officer Ken Calwell said in a statement, "is an important next step as we focus on driving innovation, strengthening our marketing communications and executing our turnaround plan for the Wendy's brand." He added that "this is a part of our overall brand strategy to build Wendy's reputation as the quality leader in the hamburger quick-service restaurant category with enhanced customer service, breakthrough new products, improved core menu choices and leading-edge marketing."

Wendy's said it will launch an "integrated communications campaign and a new advertising direction" during the fourth quarter. The next step in Wendy's review process, also to be completed in the fourth quarter, but in collaboration with Kaplan, will be selecting new agencies for multicultural marketing, media buying and public relations efforts.

The Dublin, Ohio-headquartered marketer launched a search for yet another new agency in May, under Mr. Calwell, who returned to Wendy's as its top marketer last year after a spending time in the same role at Domino's Pizza.

The media incumbent on the account is Kaplan Thaler sibling Mediavest.

It's no surprise that creative incumbent Kirshenbaum didn't manage to hang on to the account. After all, Wendy's has been through three agencies in about as many years as it struggled to find its identity since the passing of founder Dave Thomas in 2002. It parked the business at McCann Erickson in 2007, then shifted it Saatchi & Saatchi -- which was responsible for the infamous Red Wigs campaign -- and by early 2008 it was working with Kirshenbaum.

And when it launched its latest review, the fast-feeder suggested it was looking to move on. A statement to Ad Age credited the "Waaaay Better" national campaign led by Kirshenbaum for helping "to stabilize sales trends" and "improve branding" but stated that "Wendy's is focused on further strengthening its marketing voice."

That strengthening is much needed. Wendy's has lagged McDonald's and Burger King's sales gains in recent years, and has struggled to connect with the core fast-food user base of young men. Under Kirshenbaum, Wendy's focused on its value menu and healthier options such as chicken to appeal to women. The agency's most recent effort, a boy-band spoof for its Frosty-cino shake, was roundly criticized in the advertising community.

However, a year under financier Nelson Peltz's legendary management appears to be paying dividends. The chain reported a 1% same-store sales gain for the first quarter 2009 and a 3.7% gain for the fourth quarter 2008.

Of late, Wendy's appears to be returning to its roots with innovative products like the newly launched "boneless wings" with a variety of sauces.

Wendy's, which merged with Arby's last year, spent a total of $305 million on domestic measured media in 2008, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

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