Cannes Lions

Wendy's Enters the Chat

VML, Kansas City / WENDY'S / 2024

Awards:

3 Bronze Cannes Lions
2 Shortlisted Cannes Lions
Case Film
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Overview

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Credits

Overview

Background

Like most brands, Wendy’s messaging has always been geared toward a younger audience.As a quick-service restaurant (QSR), Wendy's — and our competitors' — biggest growth opportunity is young people, specifically 18- to 34-year-olds.

But it's a generational tradition for younger generations to blaze their own trails and distance themselves from the interests of older generations.

Our objective was to appeal to a newer, younger consumer without alienating our connection to our core consumer.

Appeal without alienation is a skill Wendy’s has proven expertise in through activations like our annual #NationalRoastDay, when users gladly ask to be roasted by Wendy’s and then share it as a point of pride.

Idea

While Wendy’s has developed a robust following across social media platforms, including newer and younger platforms such as TikTok and Twitch, we discovered opportunity in the form of an older, overlooked, and arguably less hip platform: Facebook.

Despite newcomers like TikTok achieving massive growth among young people, Facebook still remains the most used social platform. In fact, 85% of TikTok users also use Facebook, which offers Wendy’s a massive audience of fast food eaters.

So how might we reach these younger users without alienating our current slightly older users?

Our idea was to mimic the endearing qualities and quirks of older users' posts to reach younger users. Something never seen before from a brand, Wendy’s posts would ditch brand best practices and contain the endearing and quirky qualities that younger users are accustomed to seeing from older friends and family members, thus allowing Wendy’s to reach both audiences seamlessly.

Strategy

Baby boomers, or Americans who were born from 1955 to 1964, were raised on fast food. They came of age during the golden age of fast food when restaurants like McDonald’s rose to prominence in the 1950s, while Wendy’s was founded just a few years later, in 1969. Therefore, this audience is a valuable one, especially as baby boomers in America outspend millennials and Gen Z despite being a smaller audience.

However, younger audiences, such as millennials and Gen Z, are equally valuable as they are eating in the fast food category most often and therefore represent our opportunity for growth.

Ninety-nine percent of Americans eat fast food, and nothing spans generations and demographics like Facebook. Therefore, how might we stay true to ourselves and be uniquely Wendy’s while appealing to virtually everyone?

Execution

When you’re trying to connect with humans, why would you adhere to brand best practices? Why wouldn’t you interact with people the way they interact with each other?

We bravely ditched Facebook’s brand best practices and embraced boomer best practices: low-quality pictures, all capital letters, nostalgia, misspellings, and unrelated comments.

We replaced polished food photography with photos from a cell phone or of a television screen showing our commercials. We turned autocorrect off and caps lock on as we asked for advice on technology and shared nostalgic posts that kids today would never understand.

Older Facebook users engaged as they normally would with any other post shared to their Facebook feed from a friend, while younger users began role-playing as older Facebook users in the comments section.

Together, we developed a community within Wendy’s social media posts that was having fun with, not at the expense of, older users.

Outcome

Users instantly got in on the joke and began engaging. We generated more engagements among older and younger users in 2023 than the past three years combined. Users shared our posts off of Facebook and onto TikTok and YouTube as sources of entertainment.

Our post engagement fueled massive amounts of reach. Generating more than 200 million organic impressions — a 235% increase from the year prior and more than the past three years combined.

Our performance led Wendy’s to steal so much share of voice from our competitors that we became the No. 1 brand in organic share of voice in the entire restaurant category on Facebook! We beat our biggest competitor, McDonald’s, by 30% despite having 10x fewer followers!

However, our truest form of validation came from Meta adapting our disregard of Facebook best practices for boomer best practices as new creative best practices to reach GenZ on Facebook!

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