The Hot n' Juicy Way: New Spot Keeps It Real for Wendy's

New Agency Kaplan Thaler Puts the Focus Squarely Back on the Product and Away From Red Wigs

By Published on .

Let's see, what has Wendy's got going for it?

It cooks from unfrozen patties. It cooks to order; no heat lamps. It's still square and old fashioned, like the late, lamented Dave Thomas. The Wendy logo is reasonably iconic (in a retro but not especially fetching sort of way.) "Hot 'n' Juicy" retains some messaging equity, and -- judging at least by Carls Jr.'s success with essentially the same pitch -- has a continuing appeal for its target audience.

Title: Hot n' Juicy
Marketer: Wendy's
Agency: Kaplan Thaler, New York
The hero of Kaplan Thaler's Wendy's campaign is undisputedly the hot, juicy, square, unfrozen, unreheated patty.
Oh, and one other thing: It isn't McDonald's -- which cuts both ways. Yes, McDonald's is the center of the fast-food universe. But it is therefore also the bull's-eye, synonymous with all things fattening and artery-clogging and rain-forest clearing about the tasty-crap industry. So that's an advantage, too. Nobody hates Wendy's.

(That is, nobody who didn't once attend a food-police press conference featuring a lab cylinder filled with congealed white animal fat -- the product of one Wendy's triple burger. Ugh.)

All of the above is what the new agency, Kaplan Thaler, New York, had to work with to 1) get the brand growing steadily once again, 2) make the franchisees forget the red-wig campaign that so infuriated them.

On that point, a brief disclaimer: AdReview loved the red wig. We didn't much care for the commercials built around it and blame the fiasco on them. But if you care to dismiss anything we have to say about Wendy's advertising based on our history of wig-o-philia, you'd be perfectly within your rights.

Anyway, this gets to Kaplan Thaler's fundamental strategy, substantially inherited from predecessor agency Kirshenbaum & Bond: Get the focus off peripheral iconography and back on the product itself. The hero of this campaign is undisputedly the hot, juicy, square, unfrozen, unreheated Wendy's patty.

Because "it's real."

That's the other thing the agency had in hand, the same research every other marketer has about the under-30 generation's demand for "authenticity," whatever the hell that has to do with mass marketing. For the purposes of fast food, though, let's assume it means "true to its roots" and minimally processed. Thus the theme of the introductory spot for Wendy's biggest campaign in years: "You know when it's real."

To a marvelously catchy and amusing jingle/mission statement, the anthem juxtaposes fake stuff with real stuff: a thick head of hair with a toupee, a spaniel with a mechanical lap dog, the Statue of Liberty with one of those creepy living-statue street performers.

"Wendy's burgers are always fresh and cooked the Hot 'n' Juicy way. We never freeze them like a hockey puck or keep them stuck the way others may, in a warming tray. Our philosophy is good ol' honesty. Come on let's face it: You know real by how we make it. ... "

The final image is of a young guy riding a bike down a lonesome country road -- until the camera pulls back to reveal the background is a stage flat being towed by a passing truck. When it passes, the kid is in an urban intersection, where, on a building, is a Wendy's burger -- logo and all. So, there it is: Except for perhaps a reference to Dave Thomas, every single thing Kaplan Thaler had to work with is in the campaign. And it's all charming enough that when it ends, you really don't hate Wendy's.

There's one thing, though. The same research that says young people crave authenticity proves that they aren't easily duped by fake authenticity -- such as, say, a "real" urban setting shot on a film-studio lot.

To the agency we say this: Nice start, but take care not to wear the obviously phony red wig.

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