Cannes Session: Beefin’ Up Brands: The Power of Creative Transformation

Wendy’s was the original challenger brand in the fast-food market. But in recent years it has undergone a transformation – from old-fashioned “legacy” brand to sassy, outspoken cultural sensation and darling of the internet.

Known today for its product innovations and quick-witted social content, Wendy’s was named the world’s most innovative company in social media for 2019 by Fast Company.

Outstanding creativity and results for clients are at the heart of WPP’s own radical evolution. Taking the Cannes main stage, Mark Read led a discussion with Kurt Kane, U.S. President of Wendy’s, and Debbi Vandeven, Global Chief Creative Officer of VMLY&R, to explore the award-winning work behind the reinvention of the Wendy’s brand.

Key takeaways:

  • Wendy’s has moved beyond advertising old fashioned hamburgers to hijacking Twitter on a daily basis. It’s a major flip in the brand’s narrative, but it all started with building a personality for the brand that could stand out to a younger generation. And that personality came from understanding exactly who Wendy’s is.
  • Marketers have to be authentic, be transparent, and know why their brand is better. Wendy’s knows what it stands for, found its voice, and remains focused on delivering the best hamburgers and the best experience.
  • Rather than pushing ad messaging, Wendy’s wanted to use social media the way real people use it -- with their friends. So, the brand talks about everything from wrestling and anime to Game of Thrones. It even roasts people like you’d roast your friends. It took years to build that rapport, and it’s that foundation that allowed the work to go viral.
  • When it comes to Twitter, it’s not just about being funny -- it’s about being connected. The team lives and breathes pop culture and internet trends. Achieving cultural resonance is about listening to consumers and creating things they are inherently interested in.
  • Wendy’s has never had the media budget of its competition. But the brand has perfected talking to its consumers instead of shouting at them and finding clever ways to get their attention. That includes dropping its own “We Beefin’” mixtape and smashing frozen hamburgers in Fortnite.
  • The brand’s success comes from being nimble and taking advantage of opportunities its competition gives them -- inadvertently or otherwise. You have to be brave enough to do the work and loved enough for fans to stick with you when it doesn’t go the way you planned.
  • At the center of Wendy’s renaissance has been its creative evolution. Over the course of this journey, creativity has converted to sales results and business growth, while building the brand in big ways.

Notable quotes:

  • “If there’s no tension in your work, no one will pay attention.” Kurt Kane, US President and Chief Commercial Officer, Wendy’s
  • “We always say that our social strategy is to “make friends and invite them to lunch” and we’re at our best when we’re making friends. People want to root for their friends.” Kurt Kane, US President and Chief Commercial Officer, Wendy’s
  • “Wendy’s can live anywhere where there’s pop culture. Wendy’s is like a friend, so whatever your friends are talking about, there’s a good chance that Wendy would be there talking about it, too.” -- Debbi Vandeven, Global Chief Creative Officer, VMLY&R
  • “At the heart of everything is the amount of pride our company feels in the work. The whole community rallies, and it give them the perseverance to stay the course. It builds swagger and confidence in the teams to keep doing great work. And it helps you celebrate great people.” Kurt Kane, US President and Chief Commercial Officer, Wendy’s
  • “Our work is connected to our business results and is driving a renaissance for our brand.” Kurt Kane, US President and Chief Commercial Officer, Wendy’s