Wendy's CMO: 'If people at McDonald's aren't kicking a trash can every morning, we didn't do yesterday right'

Wendy's chief concept and marketing officer spoke at Advertising Week about why the brand is so direct when talking about competitors

Photo credit: Getty images
Photo credit: Getty images

NEW YORK: Wendy’s sassy, off-the-cuff social media voice might seem to be just that: off-the-cuff. But the fast-food chain has put its time in studying the history of its brand to establish a bold, Twitter-famous tone.

Wendy’s marketing team has watched more than 1,000 ads the brand has released over the years, studying them and what made them interesting. The team also looked into what people liked about the company’s founder.

"We held onto that," said Wendy’s EVP and chief concept and marketing officer, Kurt Kane. "That’s what you have seen on Twitter."

Speaking on a panel at Advertising Week in New York on Thursday morning, Kane said that Dave Thomas founded Wendy’s in 1969 because he couldn’t stomach eating McDonald’s or Burger King. In other words, Wendy’s was founded to challenge the QSR industry and its conventions.

Sounding almost as cheeky as Wendy’s Twitter handle, Kane added, "If anyone here is from McDonald’s or Burger King, step up your food, please."

Wendy’s makes a point, said Kane, to be direct when talking about competitors and how the brand views itself as unique.

"Every time we have done that, we have seen people engage like crazy, and that has given us more confidence [to be sassy]," he explained.

Twitter has been a "game changer" for Wendy’s in a very unbalanced marketing world. Because McDonald’s has a $2 billion ad budget, it will always be able to "outshout" Wendy’s by three or four times, Kane said.

"We try to take whatever they are doing and turn it back around at them," he said. "We have a conversation in our office, a lot which is, ‘If the people at McDonald’s aren’t kicking a trash can every morning when they walk in because of something we did, then we probably didn’t do yesterday right.’"

Wendy’s social media team has no fear of people being mad over tweets. The brand still takes its advice from Thomas to be controversial, interesting, and embrace tension – or risk losing attention.

"Be a magnet, not a mirror," said Kane. "If you try to reflect back what your audience wants to, hear they never buy it."

Wendy’s has occasionally crossed a line on Twitter. Tweets are not approved before they’re posted because of the high trust its leadership has in the brand’s social media team.

"If we feel like we crossed a line, we get everyone on the phone and we talk about it and say, ‘We didn’t love this one,’ or ‘It didn’t quite sound like us, what did you guys think? Did it feel good, did it not?’ Sometimes the ones that don’t feel good to us, the community loves," said Kane.

Has Wendy’s Twitter account yielded direct business results? Kane said it’s hard to make a link.

"As we have gotten better at engaging people through this platform, it is hard to pull out how much of it is the platform versus other tools, but it is all part of our organic growth and we have posted 22 consecutive quarters of same-restaurant sales growth," he said. "In our industry, that is unheard of. That is the best testament, but it is not like day-in, day-out we are tracking to see if this post drove X amount of business."

Kane warned other companies to avoid copycatting. Brands, he said, should "play the cards they are dealt" -- which might be a completely different game than Wendy’s.

"There is a lot that goes into the social voice we have," he said.

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