Garfield's AdReview

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The best thing about the new Wendy's campaign isn't the advertising, per se, but the offers: ultra-spicy chicken sandwiches, for example, or the choice of five sides with every combo meal. Don't want fries? Have a baked potato. Or a salad. Or a small chili.

This is something to talk about, especially since the competition offers no comparable choice. So credit McCann Erickson, New York, first for having the sense to heed the brief.

The second-best thing about the campaign is that it no longer features Wendy's "Unofficial Spokesman," the overenthusiastic groupie who took it upon himself to spread the news, like John the Baptist of Saturated Fat. That exercise was just plain embarrassing.

The third-best thing about the campaign-and, frankly, the surprise-is there is no sign of Dave Thomas. The still image of the late Wendy's spokesfounder had lately crept into the ads, which was not so much embarrassing as just desperate and sad. The man is gone. Either change the chain's name to "Dave's," or let the poor fellow rest in peace. Certainly don't channel his spirit every time you lose a point of market share. That's not only no honor, it verges on the disrespectful.

The next best thing is the Beadicons, little-flash-animated, uh, bead icons in two of the first nine TV spots and, mainly, the online element of the campaign. The roundish beads have all sort of practical and existential problems not shared by a slightly larger square one. His life is easy and serene, probably because he is the same shape as a Wendy's hamburger. Also, he is downloadable in a variety of expressions for use as IM emoticons. This will make him far more effective a proselytizer than the Unofficial Wendy's Spokesman ever could be.

The next best thing is the raccoon spot: three nocturnal scavengers who are tired of rooting through trash cans for a late meal. So they steal a car and go to Wendy's. They aren't as adorable as McCann thinks they are. They are, however, the perfect metaphor for the product benefit. We see anthropomorphic little animals all the time in advertising. Seldom do we see ones that stand for anything but, "Ohhh! So cute!" And, once again, all to promote a differentiating feature.

The next best thing is the slogan: "Do what tastes right," which is a perfectly legitimate nudge to, at least occasionally, ignore the dietary decision that feels so wrong. (On the other hand, the introductory anthem spot extends that qualified permission to a flat-out lie: "You're never eating wrong when you eat food that's made right.")

The seventh-best thing-at which point we must say "best" probably no longer applies-is the impact. The ads are strategically sound individually and as a group. They are professionally crafted and far more pointed than most. And they have some amusing moments. But overall they're not especially memorable.

In this space, we have so often railed against gratuitous entertainment and irrelevance that we can scarcely complain about mere uninspiredness. But there remains the obligation to break through. Because the consumer does have a choice, and the first one is to pay no attention.

Review 3 stars

Ad: Wendy's

Agency: McCann Erickson

Location: New York

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