Flashback Friday — "Where's the beef?"

Many of the most successful advertising strategies are based around spokespeople or developed characters. Some of them bring charisma to the brand like Dos Equis’ debonair “Most Interesting Man in the World” or Six Flags’ dancing maniac, Mr. Six. Others are developed to represent the brand’s intended customer – this would include Justin Long in Apple’s Mac vs. PC ads or the Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” lady. In the case of Wendy’s, the marketing team decided it would be more compelling to use characters to tell a story rather than putting the Wendy’s hamburger front and center.

The first Wendy’s restaurant opened in 1969, which can be considered to be late in the game compared to most of today’s successful fast food chains. And unlike McDonalds or Burger King, Wendy’s didn’t have a signature burger. It built its brand with word of mouth marketing and a message  focusing on the quality and taste of its food. With the help of loyal customers advocating the brand and its original tagline, “Quality is our Recipe” , Wendy’s franchises popped up all across the United States throughout the 1970s.
In the 1980s, the brand saw explosive growth and broke fast food records with their advertising campaign asking the rhetorical question, “Where’s the beef?” The satirical catchphrase highlighted how the competitors’ advertising claims were all fluff and no substance. The campaign, starring senior citizen Clara Peller, was introduced in 1984 and was effective because it communicated an answer to consumers’ problems (pathetic looking and tasting hamburger patties).

Wendy’s wasn’t hesitant to point out that Ms. Peller wasn’t a professionally trained actress. In fact, she was actually the manicurist on the commercial’s set when another worker noticed her distinctive voice that made her perfect for the ad.
Eventually, the “Where’s the beef?” one-liner entered mainstream pop culture. It was even used by Walter Mondale in a debate with Gary Hart during the 1984 Democratic primary.
Mondale: “When I hear your new ideas, I’m reminded of that ad, ‘Where’s the beef?’”

The “Where’s the beef?” ad campaign catapulted Wendy’s profits to a record $76.2 million in 1985. However, after founder, Dave Thomas’ death in 2002, the Wendy’s brand seemed to have lost its way with a weak advertising strategy that featured a less than memorable character named “Mr. Wendy”.
In 2008, Wendy’s merged with Triarc, the parent company of Arby’s, and the brand has since returned to its roots focusing on taste, freshness, and square hamburgers to set itself apart from the competition.