Death of an Industry Icon


Plans Dave Thomas Tribute, Then a Retooled Campaign

By Published on .

CHICAGO ( -- The death today of Wendy's International founder Dave Thomas ends a 13-year run of advertising history.

Save a few syndicated TV markets, Wendy's has pulled all its advertising and will go dark until after Mr. Thomas' funeral Friday, said Gary Steele, executive vice president in charge of the Wendy's account at Cordiant Communications' Bates Worldwide, New York.

Tribute spots
Tribute spots will air Saturday, and current spots trumpeting the No. 3 burger chain's Super Value Menu will resume Sunday, minus the kicker that featured the company's iconic spokesman. The company will then go into a local advertising window.

"Dave is a messenger, not the message, and while he will be missed in the advertising, we will continue in same tone and same manner," Mr. Steele said.

Because of Mr. Thomas' deteriorating health, Mr. Steele said Bates

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had been testing several campaigns without Mr. Thomas to find cues that "resonated the value and honesty that reside in the brand."

For the past year, Mr. Thomas had been undergoing kidney dialysis and had gall bladder surgery in July 2001.

Target date for new ads: April
While Mr. Steele was reluctant to say much about what work will go on air later in the spring -- "We'll probably be in 'cut and paste' until April" -- he said the agency would rely on research findings.

"Wendy's is about the food, and therein lies our heritage," Mr. Steele said.

What is certain is there will be no animated versions of the of the self-deprecating senior chairman, nor will there be spots starring his children, a Wendy's spokesman confirmed.

"Given the fact that campaign was running more than 10 years, it made sense for us to begin evolving advertising for the brand going forward," the spokesman said. "It will be a seamless transition."

Self-deprecating tone
"We have to create a campaign with same tonal self-deprecation that makes food the hero because consumers told us that's what Wendy's is," said Mr. Steele.

As far as what the creative will look like, "We're still working through it," he added.

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