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Why Wendy's Needs Two Redheads to Push Burgers

Behind the No. 4 Restaurant Chain's Latest Campaign

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Get used to seeing two redheads promoting Wendy's .

Advertising Age Player

The chain's new marketing effort features two redheads: the real Wendy and another recurring character whose name is unknown.

Gone is the "You know when it's real" tagline, the chain's mantra since 2009. Earlier this month Wendy's began airing an ad for the new campaign promoting its Spicy Chicken Guacamole Sandwich with the tagline "Now that 's Better." The spot featured a no-name redhead who persuades two guys to go to Wendy's for lunch. She'll air in another ad breaking April 30 promoting new sides dishes of macaroni and cheese, baked sweet potatoes and chili cheese fries, which Wendy's announced this week.

But this month ads have also aired with Wendy Thomas, daughter of founder Dave Thomas, talking about "Wendy's way." In one spot, Ms. Thomas delivers lines about the chain's quality: "When quality is your recipe, you serve only the best," "we never cut corners on anything" and "it isn't the easiest way, but it's Wendy's way."

Whereas the other redhead will appear in marketing tied to product promotions that run in four- to six-week cycles, Ms. Thomas, who last year was in a national promotion for the Dave's Hot & Juicy Burger, appears in ads reinforcing the brand that will run throughout the calendar year, touting the company's freshness and quality values. Both spokeswomen are expected to appear throughout the course of the campaign. It was created by Wendy's agency, Publicis Groupe 's Kaplan Thaler Group.

"We felt it was important to re-establish the values the brand was built on, and Wendy can do it best," said Bob Holtcamp, senior VP-brand marketing at Wendy's . "It's important to be in the marketplace on a regular basis," he added, and product promotion is best suited to a recurring character who is not focused on brand positioning. "She can be more of a direct salesman for a given product, a job that Wendy wouldn't be as good at given what her role is in re-establishing the value of the brand."

"Wendy's way" is a theme that consumers will see in the marketing that includes Wendy Thomas. When she speaks, "she really is conveying the values of the brand," Mr. Holtcamp said. "She uses that line to explain the DNA of the brand. There are certain things we do, and that 's just Wendy's way." He said "Wendy's way" is more of a mantra, and that "Now that 's better" is the official tagline.

CEO Emil Brolick, who joined the chain in September, said during an earnings call in March that "the fact is that too many consumers don't have top-of -mind awareness of what makes Wendy's better and what makes Wendy's different. ... We also see a distinct opportunity to create a consistent look, tone and feel for our advertising that will become synonymous with the Wendy's brand."

When asked if having two different spokespeople might confuse Wendy's messaging and threaten the consistency, which Mr. Brolick said the chain needed, Mr. Holtcamp said: "If we were asking both characters to do the same thing, I'd say potentially. But they're two very distinct voices within the campaign. What we learned in the research is that the consumer clearly understood that Wendy was the voice of the founder and this character was a recurring character" promoting products.

The new tagline is an extension of "You know when it's real," Mr. Holtcamp said. "We still believe that real, unprocessed, natural ingredients are the right thing to do. We're really bringing that to the consumer under the [new] campaign, and we believe that this is a clearer articulation of that idea."

And although the slogan touts founding principles, it also indicates what chains Wendy's has set out to be compared with. "In terms of long-term vision, it's a very defensible strategic position that aligns itself with the heritage of the brand," said Janney analyst Mark Kalinowski. "When you're saying something is real, that means it's authentic. Authentic doesn't necessarily mean that it's better," he added, referring to Wendy's old tagline vs. the new tagline.

Better than what, though? For one, traditional fast-food chains. Wendy's , which recently surpassed Burger King to become the No. 3 burger chain and No. 4 restaurant chain in the U.S., is in the midst of a larger turnaround effort to position itself as better than fast-food competition and on par with fast-casual chains -- restaurants that are typically viewed as better quality and fresher food than classic fast-food chains. Over the past two years it has revamped menu items, rolling out its "natural-cut" sea-salt fries and updating its burgers with the Dave's Hot & Juicy line, as well as launching a midtier-priced burger, the W.

Wendy's , which spent about $273 million in measured-media spending last year, according to Kantar, struggled with its messaging after Mr. Thomas died. It shuffled through a number of agencies and campaigns before it landed at Kaplan Thaler, which created the "You know when it's real" tagline.

In addition to new menu items and marketing, store remodels are part of the turnaround effort. Stores play an important role in consumer perception, especially if the chain hopes to be viewed as fast-casual. "With 'fast casual' securing a premium positioning above [quick-serve restaurants], and with 68% of consumers saying that Wendy's stores are not 'up-to-date' within the world of QSR, remodels are the next focus for management. ... Past efforts at reimagining were 'defensive' in nature," said Barclays analyst Jeff Bernstein after the company's investor day in January.

The past month has been busy for the chain overall. In late March, Wendy's ran ads saying it has never used pink slime and never will. Just a few day before, it had named P&G veteran Craig Bahner its new CMO. The post had been vacant since Ken Calwell left Wendy's last June.

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