Wendy's Red Wig Ad: Close to Perfect

Chain Finally Discovers a Post-Dave Thomas Positioning

By Published on .

So close.

Saatchi & Saatchi's debut for Wendy's is so close to being extremely memorable, so close to being strategically perfect, so close to being the best burger advertising out there. But on all accounts, it falls just slightly short.

Mind you, the work is pretty good (which is more than we can say about any other Wendy's advertising of the current millennium), but with a little more discipline and a little more vision, it could have been superb. Specific complaints to follow, but first let's look at what's good about it, starting with positioning.

Remember positioning? Remember, before it became all about punch lines, marketers tried to articulate a unique selling proposition, a differentiating benefit or at least a point of view? Nah. Why would you remember that? Positioning is just sooooo analog, sooooo uncool, the client-pandering behavior depended upon by the calcified and unimaginative.

Like Nike. BMW. Southwest Airlines. Absolut.

You know, losers like that.

Cooked to order
Well, for the first time since Dave Thomas passed the scene, Wendy's has discovered a positioning. Or rediscovered one. Harking back to its "Hot 'n' Juicy" days of the '70s (and brief resurgence in the mid-'80s), Wendy's is reminding everybody that its burgers are cooked to order.

"I deserve a hot, juicy burger!" the protagonist shouts in one TV spot, because he's fed up with the assembly-line, heat-lamp-warmed servings of Wendy's competition. Thanks to excellent food photography, the product itself would seem to corroborate him (compared with 1986, when the Hot 'n' Juicy burger looked Warm 'n' Greasy on TV).

Indeed, all of the ads -- on TV, radio and online -- relentlessly hammer home the point. That's great, and long overdue. Salads are important these days, but in the end, Wendy's is a burger joint and will live or die on that reputation. Furthermore, turning "hot, fresh and juicy" into a mantra would enable the chain to simply substitute "crisp, fresh and healthy" or "hot, spicy, white meat" where necessary.

Bad tagline
But here's the error: the tagline, which obscurely claims, "That's Right."

Um, what's right? Not cooking from frozen patties? Then why be so oblique about it? Maybe "Fresh fast food" would run afoul of regulators, but we suppose "Made to order" is just too obvious.

The second major strength of the new campaign is one sight gag in one ad, in which the aforementioned protagonist is in a forest, among scores of men and women inexplicably kicking trees. He chooses not to kick a tree, because he doesn't need to do what everybody else is doing. That's why he won't settle for burger-factory burgers. A quirky way to make the point to begin with, but here's the thing: The guy happens to be wearing a red-pigtailed wig, a la the iconic "Wendy" herself. He's just an ordinary dope -- in protruding scarlet pigtails. Like a punk Pippi Longstocking.

That's funny.

Beginning of a Big Idea
The rest of the 60 seconds is a bit overwrought and at least 30 seconds too long, but putting ordinary schnooks in ridiculous pigtails is the beginning of a Big Idea. Just imagine the possibilities. Alas, at least in the opening pool of ads, it never shows up again.

The rest of the ads are admirably on message but more self-consciously quirky than actually memorable. And they all seem like one-offs, lacking the sort of audiovisual consistency this positioning deserves.

Us, we'd throw out everything but the wig guy and start over, hot and fresh. Because after about the third spot, this stuff seems flat and warmed over.

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