Wendy's Gets the Love Bug

Why Kevin Roberts and Saatchi Are Now at the Helm of the Chain's $300 Million Account

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Last Wednesday morning a young woman with freckles, bright-red pigtails and a blue dress stepped out of the elevator on the 16th floor of Saatchi's New York office. She flounced up to the office of agency CEO Kevin Roberts and handed him a gold statue, with a little note taped to it. It read simply: "Call Ian Rowden."
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Photo Illustration: Tim Bradley

'The way in which [Saatchi uses] the tool to differentiate themselves and help clients navigate their brands was certainly very attractive,' Ian Rowden, Wendy's CMO, said of Lovemarks.



That was the moment Mr. Roberts knew for sure that Wendy's wanted Saatchi to turn it into a Lovemark, the agency chief's trademarked -- and heavily marketed -- name for a brand that establishes a stronger, maybe even mystical, connection with the consumer. As reported first by Advertising Age last week, Mr. Rowden, the chain's chief marketing officer, had decided to take his $300 million creative and media accounts out of Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson and Universal McCann and give them to Publicis Group's Saatchi & Saatchi and MediaVest. The decision was made without any formal pitches or presentations from agencies.

Second major pickup
Wendy's is the second major marketer in the past six months to buy into Mr. Roberts, his agency and his Lovemarks concept. The first was JC Penney, which ditched longtime shop DDB for Saatchi last September. "The way in which [Saatchi uses] the tool to differentiate themselves and help clients navigate their brands was certainly very attractive," Mr. Rowden said.

Mr. Roberts -- who first worked with the Wendy's marketing chief when he was head of Coke's Australian bottler Lion Nathan and Mr. Rowden was head of Coke's marketing division Down Under -- interpreted Wendy's feelings more enthusiastically: "Rowdy said we were one of the few that stood for something in this bland environment," he said. "And the way he let us know -- sending Wendy into the office -- was great. That kind of theater and drama shows the business can still be fun."

McCann might not see it that way, especially since its recent marketing for the brand seemed to have been working, a fact Mr. Rowden didn't deny. "We've got momentum in our business, and we're on a great track now, and McCann had done a helluva job in helping me restage the brand," he said. Indeed, in the past seven months, the No. 3 chain has reversed a nightmarish 20 months of same-store-sales declines; Mr. Rowden partly credited improved advertising and a refocused strategy after a spate of missteps.

The right time
"I don't think the time to change an ad agency is when your business isn't performing," Mr. Rowden said. "There are too many things outside advertising that advertising can get held up for. I believe the time to do it is now. We understand where we want to take our brand, and the time is right for us to do this."

While the lure of Lovemarks might have been a factor in the breakup with McCann, some speculated that there were some push factors, too. The move may have been prompted by board pressure to improve sales to the levels of rival brands such as McDonald's, which continues to post impressive gains over tough prior-year comparisons. Indeed, with easy year-over-year comparisons, strong sector performance and mild weather providing a headwind toward comparable sales, Wendy's still has to prove to investors that its strategy and marketing will continue to produce sales growth in the $56 billion fast-food hamburger segment.

Improved creative
Others said franchisees and marketing leadership had been unhappy with creative, including a poorly received campaign as late as last fall for the expanded breakfast-menu test. Franchisees said there had been problems, but they were quick to note that creative had improved over the past six months. "It's going from wanting to be good to wanting to be great," said one franchisee on the advertising committee. To do that, Wendy's needs a "more effective" message and image for its re-centered position on old-fashioned hamburgers made with fresh ground beef, the franchisee said.

The decision ended Wendy's 26-year marriage with Gary Steele, exec VP-McCann Worldgroup. He first moved onto the account in 1991 at the now-defunct Backer Spielvogel Bates and moved with the account to McCann in 2002.

In addition to Saatchi, Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners will work on designated projects for Wendy's. Like Mr. Roberts, Mr. Kirshenbaum has ties to Mr. Rowden's former life at Coca-Cola Co.
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