Move Over Bacon: Fancy Cheese Has Its Day in Wendy's Ads

Fast-Food Chain's Latest Offerings Includes Football-Themed Spots Featuring T.O. And Vince Young

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Wendy's is promoting cheese as the star in two new items, with football-themed spots that suggest cheese should not always serve as an underdog to bacon.

The Gouda Bacon Cheeseburger and Bacon Fondue Fries are the latest limited-time offers from Wendy's. The No. 3 fast-food burger chain is using a mix of new products and promotions to win over diners while smaller players such as Five Guys and Shake Shack keep growing and McDonald's and Burger King continue to update their own menus.

Wendy's Chief Concept and Marketing Officer Kurt Kane calls the chain's limited-time offers, or LTOs, such as the Gouda Bacon Cheeseburger "elevated taste experiences" he argues would be difficult for competitors to pull off, touting Wendy's supply chain, fresh beef and fresh produce.

"People are in this category a lot and so they like new experiences, they like to be able to experience taste and flavor variety," said Mr. Kane, who joined Wendy's in May following seven years at Pizza Hut, most recently as global chief marketing and food innovation officer.

At Wendy's, he said he found "a great team with a ton of culinary capability. We just had an opportunity, I think, to keep pushing to make sure we were bringing those products to life in fun and memorable ways."

New TV spots and a digital video that acts as a trailer for the fictional movie "Gouda Bacon Cheeseburger: A Cheesy Underdog Story" are set to debut Nov. 30. Former football stars Terrell Owens and Vince Young star as Gouda and Gruyere, respectively, benchwarmers on a football team who get their chance to shine playing with a smaller player named Bacon.

Mr. Owens also stars in a couple of audition-tape style videos that will air online.

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"We thought the cheese earned at least equal if not higher status than bacon, or should," said Mr. Kane. "We didn't call it the Bacon Gouda cheeseburger, we called it the Gouda Bacon cheeseburger."

The Gouda Bacon Cheeseburger is a quarter-pound of beef topped with creamy garlic aioli, smoked gouda, warm swiss gruyere cheese sauce, three strips of applewood smoked bacon, red onions, tomato and fresh spring mix, served on a toasted brioche bun. Bacon Fondue Fries are topped with the swiss gruyere cheese sauce and applewood smoked bacon. Recommended pricing calls for $4.99 for the burger and $1.99 for the fries.

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Wendy's had gouda on the menu once before, in 2014's smoked gouda chicken sandwich. It has also had other limited-time varieties of topped fries: BBQ pulled pork cheese fries debuted in 2014 and came back in early fall of 2015. Ghost pepper fries and Baconator fries hit the menu in the spring and summer of 2015.

"We've been having a lot of success with topped fries and unique LTO experiences on our fries," Mr. Kane said.

At the same time, Wendy's sees value in a price-value offering. In October, it launched a 4 for $4 meal with a junior bacon cheeseburger, four chicken nuggets, small fries and a small drink. A solid start with 4 for $4 was one of the reasons Wendy's forecasts 2015 same-restaurant sales and adjusted profit at the high end of its prior targets.

"It's a program that right now seems to have some staying power and the consumer reaction that we've seen to it has been very strong," Mr. Kane said of 4 for $4. "We haven't declared an end date to it yet."

Publicis North America worked on TV and radio spots and the trailer video; VML was the digital agency on other content such as "behind-the-scenes" footage including the audition tapes; Starcom MediaVest was the media buying agency; Saatchi X worked on merchandising; and Ketchum is handling public relations on the project.

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