Ms. Kaufman, who had been deposed from her job as Snapple ad spokeswoman during much of the two-year period the brand was owned by Quaker Oats Co., was certain Triarc would hire her back-with good reason.
Earlier, "Mr. Weinstein had met me for lunch to see if I'd do a spot for [then Snapple rival] Mistic," she said in an interview. She refused him because "I would never do anything to damage 'my brand.'*"
Such statements often ring hollow among paid endorsers, but not when uttered by the irrepressible Ms. Kaufman, who is unmistakably ecstatic about her return to Snapple advertising (AA, June 9). Her story-told in a rapid-fire volley of words that's quintessentially New York in tone and tenor-isn't about her role in marketing Snapple, but how she marketed herself back into a job with her beloved brand.
IT BEGAN IN THE ORDER DEPT.
Her tireless Snapple-boosting began in 1991, when Ms. Kaufman landed a job in Snapple's order department courtesy of Snapple's then-Chief Financial Officer Arnie Greenberg, who happened to be her best friend's father. While there, she got involved in helping him plan a golf benefit for cancer research, which led to more responsibilities, including the duty of answering letters coming into the company.
It was a job she took seriously.
"I remember writing a fan letter to ['Brady Bunch' star] Barry Williams when I was a teen-ager and he never wrote me back," she recalled. "I never got over that."
So every letter to Snapple got her personal response. It was almost inevitable that Ms. Kaufman and the letters-often quirky-came to the attention of Snapple's ad agency at the time, Kirshenbaum & Bond.
"The idea was 100% natural marketing," said Richard Kirshenbaum, agency partner, adding that Wendy was right for the part because she was an original. "America was ready for somebody like Wendy."
It wasn't a decision without risk, however. There was some initial resistance because she's "not tall, thin and blond," he added.
Ms. Kaufman puts it more bluntly: "I was the anti-Christ of all advertising, a svelte 5-foot-2 and 200 pounds."
She recalls, "When I did the first ad, the whole left side of my face froze, it was like I was a stroke victim. But then I realized all it really entailed was me reading the letters and finding the ones that made me laugh."
The campaign evolved from Ms. Kaufman sitting behind a desk reading some of the letters selected by her and the agency, to a second phase where Wendy moved out from behind the desk to fulfill fans' fantasies.
"It got to the point where I knew when a letter came in I was going to do [an ad] with it," she said.
Her shining moment came when talk-show host Joan Rivers had her on her TV program.
About the time of that TV appearance, Snapple was receiving some 3,000 letters a week, a lot to keep up with for even Ms. Kaufman, who came up with an ingenious solution. Hearing about another woman named Wendy Kaufman who was often mistaken for her, she called the other Wendy and offered her a job-answering and signing letters "Wendy Kaufman."
But the activity came to a skidding halt in 1994, when Quaker bought Snapple.
"There were no marketing meetings in the first four or five months and it was becoming clear they had no interest in me," she recalled.
The big food and beverage marketer was, however, giving her a budget to travel the country and answer letters.
"They ended up demolishing what made the brand great," said Mr. Kirshenbaum. "They . . . wanted to mainstream the brand."
Ms. Kaufman said her final exit came in February 1996, an event Quaker says actually occurred five months earlier, when she was told that she was no longer "the image they wanted to maintain."
'TOO NEW YORKISH'
Quaker executives declined to talk about its marketing strategy for Snapple, but industry consultant Tom Pirko of Bevmark was an adviser to Quaker on Snapple at the time, and played a role in firing the agency and Wendy. He staunchly defends the decision.
"When it was [primarily identified as] a New York City brand, Wendy didn't have legs," he told Advertising Age. "The brand needs humor, irreverence, quirkiness, as an alternative beverage. It needed a dynamic" that he said Ms. Kaufman couldn't provide.
He maintains that Snapple-under Quaker and now under Triarc-has the ability to be a major, mainstream beverage and therefore needs a higher-profile spokesman.
"Ask [Gatorade spokesman] Michael Jordan. It's a big undertaking [to market a big, national brand], and it needs an outsize spokesman to do it," he said. Ms. Kaufman, he said, "is too New Yorkish, too narrow a piece of the brand's consciousness."
A Quaker spokesman said, "We spent more than $40 million on Wendy-related media in 1995, and during that time [volume] declined 12%. The market clearly was ready for something different."
Quaker put Gatorade agency Foote, Cone & Belding, Chicago, on the account, and that shop's first duty was to execute a huge, $40 million sampling effort-sans Wendy-giving away record amounts of Snapple across the U.S.
But it, too, was pulled-much to the delight of Ms. Kaufman, who said the toughest part of the parting was her inability to comment on the matter until her contract was up.
Quaker maintains it signed Ms. Kaufman to a two-year contract that ran through Dec. 31, 1996 and worth more than $1 million, to serve as Snapple's goodwill ambassador.
ON THE ROAD BACK
Numerous disc jockeys had called and sought interviews that she had to turn down-until January 6, 1997, when the contract was up. One of them was KTRR-FM's Kathy Kelly in Fort Collins, Colo.
"I was trying to get Wendy on the air, but she was still with Quaker and she was holding back until her contract was up," remembered Ms. Kelly. "Then one day we were talking on the phone and I said, 'Why don't we start up a movement to bring you back?'*"
Ms. Kelly said Ms. Kaufman at first thought she was joking.
But she wasn't. She began by posting the idea on the Internet, and it started to get pickup on radio and TV stations. She promoted it on her own shift and then put it out on a DJ prep service called "Wireless Flash."
After that, it started "snowballing," she said. The result: Ms. Kaufman was back on radio, doing 200 interviews, many of them bashing Quaker Oats Co.
"I'd make fun of [Chairman-CEO] Bill Smithburg," said Ms. Kaufman. "People loved me taking on corporate America."
But although she trashed Quaker, she never bad-mouthed Snapple.
"I would never hurt my brand," she said with conviction.
From those appearances came an offer from a fan-Matthew Weprin-a computer geek who offered to build a Wendy Web site. From there was born a site called www.snapple-lady.com that received 30,000 to 40,000 hits a week without a penny in advertising.
The marketing campaign to bring back Ms. Kaufman not only built up steam, it caught the attention of Quaker and FCB.
Then-Snapple President "Mike Schott called and asked if I would talk to them," said Ms. Kaufman. "I still loved the brand and it was breaking my heart."
But the deal she said they offered-a one-commercial run with no PR ambassador responsibilities-didn't interest her. "I asked, 'How can you take my mail away? That's a federal offense.'*"
Negotiations faltered. Then Triarc stepped in, paying $300 million for the brand Quaker had purchased for $1.7 billion.
"I knew instantly I'd be coming back," said Ms. Kaufman.
And come back she did, in style, with her own brand called Wendy's Tropical Inspiration, complete with a caricature of herself on the bottle. ("Look at me, right next to Paul Newman on the shelf," she said.)
There's also a TV spot cheered by bottlers and even the media at an event June 5 depicting Wendy's two-year "vacation" by showing her on a desert island where the natives worship Snapple. At the close of the commercial-created by new agency Deutsch, New York-she says she's going back to Snapple, "because they need me."
For Mr. Kirshenbaum, whose agency declined to pitch Snapple the second time around, Ms. Kaufman's return is "bittersweet."
"It's one of the ironies of the ad business that you create a character and it's not yours, you don't get paid for it down the line."
But nonetheless, he said, "We're thrilled they're using her."
To celebrate her return, she rode triumphantly down New York's Fifth Avenue on a Snapple float complete with swaying palm trees, clad in flowered muumuu and fruit-bedecked sunhat.
Along the route, New York embraced her as she shouted out to drivers and spectators that she's back. She even held aloft two Snapple bottles, shouting, "What a pair I have!"
But for all her bravado and sheer joy, she's a bit nervous about the campaign once again and whether it will translate on a national basis.
"It's very nerve-wracking. Do you think it'll work?" she asked.
Even one of her biggest boosters isn't sure.
"There are too many factors to give you an answer," said Mr. Kirshenbaum when asked her question. "You need to take into account new-product development, market conditions. It's a good move, Wendy's great; but you can't count on one