Walk into one of Wendy's 5,900 North America locations this week, and you may think you've walked into a Wendy's commercial.
The wacky, red, pigtail wig from Wendy's wen ads has been a hit with consumers, and the burger chain, in need of a marketing hit, is trying to ride the wave.
Last week, 5,000 wigs were sent to local restaurant managers and public relations folks for store employees to wear. "Hired heads" are also being sent to sports or entertainment events.
Restaurants also are putting out big cardboard placards with space cut out below the wig so people can insert their own head and pose for silly pictures. Next month, the red pigtails will be the centerpiece of a Web promotion.
The wig campaign is the first marketing concept to really catch on for Wendy's since the death five years ago of Dave Thomas, Wendy's affable founder and the longtime face of its advertising. "When we tested the (wig) concept, focus groups suggested it would be a good idea, but we didn't expect it to catch on this quickly," said Ian Rowden, chief marketing officer.
A handful of wigs are used for each commercial shoot. Wig doubles are necessary because the synthetic fibers need to be refreshed after about an hour of use. A few more were used this summer to put on publicity stunts at the premiere of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
The wig symbolizes the proverbial light bulb clicking on over one's head — when it dawns on the wearer that he or she should break from the fast-food crowd and choose a better burger at Wendy's. The ads are bizarre — but they are essentially a younger, hipper spin on Thomas' "The Food Is Better" theme driven home in his more than 100 commercials. Rallying cries go back to Wendy's basics: "hot, juicy burgers" cooked to order from patties that are "fresh, never frozen."
"Dave knew what Wendy's stood for, and for whatever reasons, the values that he communicated got lost," Rowden said.
Lack of a strong marketing message has been one factor blamed for slow growth in Wendy's sales and a lagging share price. The lack of shareholder gains has made the chain vulnerable to pressure from billionaire investor Nelson Peltz, whose Trian fund owns about 9% of Wendy's shares, to put the chain on the block. Peltz may be a bidder and last month got the OK to begin reviewing Wendy's financial information.
The brash new campaign may not save Wendy's from a takeover, but it could boost sales by bringing in more of the younger consumers who have fueled recent growth at rivals McDonald's and Burger King.
The ads' effect on sales won't be seen until Wendy's reports third-quarter results next month — the chain no longer reports sales month-to-month.
Dennis Lombardi, vice president of food-service strategies for WD Partners, a store designer and developer based in Wendy's hometown of Dublin, Ohio, says the youth appeal is a risk Wendy's had to take.
"Wendy's had a nice little niche for itself not trying to go after that 16- to 23-year-old consumer. As the brand starts shifting, you run the risk of losing that older segment," he said. "But it's manageable risk, and they have to do it because that younger cohort is a big quick-service-restaurant user. Wendy's can't afford to ignore an opportunity."
The campaign, created by New York agency Saatchi & Saatchi, was born after ad researchers found that nearly every consumer they interviewed could doodle the image of the little girl with upturned pigtails in the Wendy's logo. The logo was created in 1969 for the opening of the first restaurant, and the image was based on a photo of the chain's namesake, Thomas' daughter Wendy, at age 8.
The real Wendy had no comment on the goofy ads aimed at the YouTube generation, but one older consumer turned off by the wig is her mother, Lorraine Thomas.
"I don't like it," she said in a phone interview. "I think it's idiotic, and it's the worst thing I've ever seen. I think it's too off-the-wall."
The wig will be hard to miss during fall TV premieres, with ads to air on shows including Survivor on CBS, Family Guy on Fox and CW's Smallville.
The webcampaign starts the first week of October at hotjuicyburger.com. Visitors can upload images and record a "hot and juicy" chant. Entries may be picked to be featured in Wendy's banner ads on other sites.
Rowden's problem is to try to keep the momentum but avoid overkill. "Part of the plan is to manage it rather than do too much too soon."
In seven ads so far, a range of characters have worn the wig — from a Will Ferrell-type in the woods to a black female executive — and none has done it twice.
"We didn't want another brand mascot," says Tony Granger, chief creative officer for Saatchi. "If you look at the industry, there's a clown, a creepy king, a colonel. The wig is the 'voice of enlightenment' on different people: black, white, male, female, young and old."
Store manager Stacy Alarid in Morris, Ill., likes the ads and said the picture-taking placard is popular. "Customers take their pictures and say, 'Look at me.' And that creates excitement for us in the restaurant."
Meanwhile, admakers will keep looking for the right "hair care" product to keep the wig looking fresh.
"After an hour, it starts to fray," says Jan Jacobs, executive creative director for Saatchi. "It's a big drama trying to keep it tidy."
NEW AND NOTABLE
Heel to tow? To pump up interest in its MegaShop shoe department, off-price retailer Marshalls has taken to the streets in a motorized red stiletto pump with a nearly 8-foot heel. The three-wheeled shoemobile was in Washington, D.C., last week where reps snapped photos of people with the patent leather shoe. The photos are posted at www.Marshallsonline.com/megashoe.asp for them to retrieve and e-mail to friends.
The fancy footwear makes tracks next in cities including Philadelphia, Dallas and Houston. While the shoe will be toe-d, err, towed, between cities by a Ford Expedition Max, it's no loafer: The pump, with a 5-speed gearbox and top speed of 60 mph, will rack up 30 to 50 miles a day under its own power in each city.
Show me the cookie. On TNT's The Closer, Kyra Sedgwick plays a tough-cookie interrogator who gets criminals to crumble. And with some characters (especially Sedgwick's) sweet on sweets, it's no surprise cookie maker Keebler signed up for ad time — and for product placement in the show.
Keebler's star turn in the series' finale last week, however, was in-your-face even by today's relaxed "product-integration" standards. Tough cop Lt. Provenza (played by G.W. Bailey) munched a cookie and proudly cradled the Keebler Sandies package, brand name out front, as the camera zoomed in. The scene was close to a commercial break with — surprise! — a Sandies ad.
TNT spokeswoman Jenn Toner says The Closer's product placements (there are others) are "organic" and that the ad and creative teams "work very closely" to be sure the storyline is never compromised.
Besides, she points out, the finale drew 9.2 million live plus same-day DVR viewers. That's a record for ad-supported cable, so it "looks like all is going well."
Flapping in the wind. Those flimsy, open-back hospital "gowns" are an indignity you wouldn't normally want to associate with your brand. But ABC and TV Guide are sending them to about 100,000 New York and Los Angeles TV Guide subscribers. The Grey's Anatomy-branded paper smocks will arrive with the Sept. 24 issue to promote the new season.
While the garment may not conjure up fond memories, Ad Team research found that wearing one instead of jeans and a T-shirt for prime-time TV would shave 27 seconds off a commercial bathroom break — enough time to hit the refrigerator, too, before settling back onto the couch.
Seats to make you blue with envy. TV maker Samsung has determined the optimum movie-watching spot — where video and audio is best — in 53 Landmark Theatres' screening rooms across the country and installed a pair of blue, Samsung-branded seats on the spot.
"Our intention is to show our audience that we provide the best seat in the house, whether in the theater or at home," says marketing director Kris Narayanan. The seats and site blueseat.com are part of a Samsung and Landmark effort to promote independent films, starting with Sean Penn's Into the Wild, opening this week.
Narayanan says occupiers of the blue chairs will sometimes get little surprises (like free refreshments — not gum stuck under the seat).
By Laura Petrecca
Q. Who is the model in the Rembrandt Teeth Whitening Strips ad — and did that lion really lick her cheek?
A. Rembrandt tries to illustrate its message of strong but gentle with beautiful white lion Lufuno (one of just 25 white lions in the world) nuzzling Ashley Hartman. In fact, the model got the job because Lufuno took a liking to Hartman at her audition, says Shannon Brennan, a spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson, which bought Rembrandt from Gillette in 2006. Lufuno's gentle kiss is for real — and not scripted. The lion went for it on his own.
Q. How can one find the name of the song used in a TV ad? Is there a website?
A. "What's that tune?" is one of the most frequent Ask the Ad Team queries. Numerous sites list the artist and song title, particularly when pop music is used, and music labels and artists increasingly see ad use as good promotion.
"Advertising is one of the best places to learn about new music," says Josh Rabinowitz, director of music at New York ad agency Grey Worldwide, home of advertising's largest in-house music department.
Also, if the music is a big enough part of a campaign, it may be identified on the advertiser's website.