Can Mr. Wendy revive fast-feeder's spark?

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Trying to recapture what one observer called the advertising "voice" it lost with founder Dave Thomas' death, Wendy's is ushering in a new, "unofficial" spokesman.

While Wendy's growth is strong and its reputation the best among hamburger chains in a recent consumer satisfaction study, the chain's advertising focus has lost clarity since the passing of Mr. Thomas two years ago.

"I was looking for a much stronger level of continuity and consistency in our advertising," said Don Calhoon exec VP-marketing at Wendy's, noting that the chain in the past has used ideas with a long shelf life rather than a series of self-contained ads. In recent years the advertising did a "good job of building awareness for the product," but the bigger opportunity was to leverage the brand, he said. With the new spokesperson, Mr. Wendy, "he is passionate about Wendy's first and then whatever the product is second."


Mr. Wendy is a self-appointed Wendy's zealot who buttonholes people to talk up the hamburger chain's virtues. He is portrayed as operating without the permission of the fast-feeder he promotes.

Mr. Calhoon acknowledged that some may be tempted to view the Mr. Wendy character as a replacement for Mr. Thomas. But, he said, "we could certainly never replace Dave or would try to. Dave was the official spokesperson and the founder of our company. He stood for all that Wendy's was about. Mr. Wendy couldn't be further from that if he tried."

The Mr. Wendy campaign's first TV spot is staged in front of the chain's Dublin, Ohio, headquarters. He reads a letter from the company's legal department telling him to cease and desist his activities. Undeterred, the character continues his mission to challenge consumers to stop compromising and to go to Wendy's.

Six additional spots follow him to places ranging from a mall to a Hollywood party. At that party, he and his wife show up with a dozen salads, as William Shatner asks if the odd guest is with Wendy's. "Unofficially," replies Mr. Wendy, and Mr. Shatner questions what that means. Mrs. Wendy responds, "It's complicated."

The campaign, created by Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, will also include print ads presented as Mr. Wendy's own homemade ads. Radio spots feature his own brand of poetry. Interactively, a Mr. Wendy fan club Web site will encourage consumers to send in their own Wendy's stories.

how to replace dave?

Wendy's "certainly never rekindled the spark that Dave created as an ad icon, but who would?" said Bob Goldin, VP at Technomic, adding the most recent campaign hasn't been memorable. "How do you replace Dave with a campaign as powerful as that was?"

Mr. Calhoon disputed any evidence of erosion in the Wendy's brand, noting that the chain's performance has been strong and that it has been first to bring to market many new ideas, such as an entree salads line that kicked off a slew of imitators in 2002.

Wendy's performance has slipped some as the chain ended 2003 with domestic same-store sales up 0.9%, compared to a 4.7% gain in 2002. The fourth quarter of 2003 was especially strong, however, with the company posting an 8.6% same-store sales boost. Moreover, Mr. Goldin speculated that Wendy's could eclipse ailing Burger King Corp. as the No. 2 burger chain within a couple of years.

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