Wendy's Parts Ways With Publicis, Names VML Its Creative Agency

WPP Shop Has Been Digital Agency Since 2012

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A still from a recent Wendy's campaign created by VML.
A still from a recent Wendy's campaign created by VML. Credit: Wendy's

Wendy's has named WPP's VML its new creative agency without a review.

Publicis New York, which last year dropped the Kaplan Thaler moniker, has been handling the account since Kaplan Thaler won it in 2009. Back then, Kaplan Thaler also handled digital, but Wendy's moved that part of the business over to VML in 2012 after a review.

In recent months, it appeared as though VML was picking up more and more work, though Wendy's maintained that Publicis was still on the roster. VML has been handling creative for campaigns like one in February in which Wendy's dropped its "Now That's Better" slogan in favor of its new tagline, "Deliciously Different."

In that same campaign, the Red character, which has been used under Publicis' tenure since her debut in 2012, was conspicuously missing. Chief Concept and Marketing Officer Kurt Kane said last month that although she'd been absent from some work lately, no permanent decisions had been made about her future.

Publicis executives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Kane said the impetus to hire VML to handle all creative comes from the need for seamlessly integrated campaigns.

"VML has proven that it can tell the Wendy's story in a modern and compelling way that drives winning business results," Mr. Kane said in a statement. "By streamlining the creative process with VML, we believe our advertising and marketing disciplines will continue delivering strong results across our business while further setting our brand apart from the QSR pack."

In fact, much of the advertising that Wendy's had been touting in the last couple years had been digital work created by VML, including a Fellini-esque video to tout its Italian Chicken Sandwich and an effort in which the marketer attached a Go Pro-style camera to a head of lettuce.

Mr. Kane came to Wendy's in May as the chain's first chief concept officer. At the time, Brandon Solano, who joined the company in July 2014, was chief marketing officer, though he left the company in September. Mr. Kane then tacked on the chief marketing officer duties.

That VML is picking up a significant creative account is yet another sign that traditional agencies aren't just seeing competition from one another, they are increasingly competing against agencies they may not have considered stiff competition only a few years ago. The win is just one of several lead creative accounts VML has won of late. In 2015, it was named lead agency for Motorola, Keurig, Kellogg's Kashi and the International Olympic Committee. VML was named to Ad Age's Agency A-List in January.

"We've always held the same values and beliefs when it comes to how to create impactful messaging," VML Global CEO Jon Cook said in a statement. "There is no 'digital' marketing -- only marketing. Our results together have proven out the value of thinking differently. We can't wait for where our journey is going next."

The loss is a blow for Publicis, and while it will surely be looking to replace Wendy's with another fast food account, significant quick-service accounts only go into play once in a blue moon. The agency in 2015 won the global Heineken account, and in December 2014 won the sizeable Cadillac account.

In January, Publicis named Carla Serrano, a longtime strategy executive, its New York CEO. Chairman Linda Kaplan Thaler, who founded Kaplan Thaler Group in 1997, left in February.

Recent Wendy's promotions include the marketing of its overhauled burgers, which were featured in the same campaign as when Wendy's introduced its "Deliciously Different" tagline. Dubbed the Dave's Single (and Double and Triple), the burger replaces the chain's existing standard burgers and is a throwback to the original recipe.

Other campaigns include one that began in October for its "4 for $4" campaign, a value play that offers customers four items. It also promoted limited-time items, a Gouda Bacon Cheeseburger and Bacon Fondue Fries, in November.

Wendy's said VML will work with other agencies on the brand, including Bravo, MediaVest, Saatchi & Saatchi X, and Ketchum. Wendy's in 2014 spent about $347 million in U.S. advertising, according to Ad Age's Datacenter.

Contributing: Jessica Wohl

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