Wendy's International

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Global Net income: $171.3 million for the first nine months of 2003, up 1.9% from the same period a year ago

Ad budget: $189 million for the first eight months of 2003, down 4.5%

Wendy's International was a top contender for Marketer of the Year for the sole reason of keeping at least two steps ahead of its competitors.

It's why the No. 3 burger chain has been gaining share in the quick-service restaurant category and held its own against McDonald's Corp. as the leader gets its act together. McDonald's has gotten much attention for its entree salads launch this year, but Wendy's was first to roll out its line.

The house that Dave built also was among the first to market extended hours and improved nutritional information. Perhaps most important in the chain's remarkable consistency year to year is its dedication to operations above all else, including marketing. What Exec VP-Marketing Don Calhoon says each crew worker must have is an "MBA," or mop bucket attitude, to be the best. By keeping an eye on serving the customer, Wendy's has been able to provide a true differentiation to leverage its media, message and creative.

To prepare for 2003 and beyond, Wendy's at the end of '02 began the most extensive brand equity study in the chain's history to anticipate the consumer trends for the next decade as fast-casual chains nip at the heels of fast-food for the informal diner.