Sunday, April 24, 2005

Humor in Marketing: Would it Work for Wendy's?

So yesterday I was getting my hair done. This event happens every other month, and my sister and I schedule our appts. back to back with the hairdresser we've been seeing for over a decade. By now we're friends, and our conversations are pretty far-reaching. But I don't typically get marketing ideas from the conversations. Until now.

As you can imagine there's been a lot of talk in San Jose these last few weeks about the Finger-in-the-Chili incident at a local Wendy's. As a vegetarian I'm not much of a Wendy's patron, nor a chili-buyer. I didn't have a personal "it could have been me" reaction, nor was there any Wendy's buying pattern to be disrupted.

But my patronage or no, this local Wendy's, and all Wendy's, have found themselves adversely affected by the incident. Now that it's been uncovered that the whole thing was a hoax, will their business return?

The local Wendy's where the incident occurred is offering free Frostys as a carrot.

And my clever hairdresser suggested that they should just use humor, acknowledge what happened and advertise this offer as: "Free Fingerless Frostys!!!" or "Free Frostys: Fingerless Now & Always!"

We laughed and laughed. And then I wondered what would happen if they really did such a thing?

Humor in advertising is not a new idea. There are two kind of ads that are likely to be among your favorites...those that bring a little lump to your throat, and those that make you laugh.

If Wendy's really put out such an ad it would make you laugh. It would probably make you admire the fact that they were acknowledging the issue head-on.

But would it entice you to eat there? Is it better to have the finger incident in the back of your head or at the front?

I think using humor just as your hairdresser suggests would do Wendy's a world of good--and I'd bet my laptop TPTB would never go for it. A "direct hit" against the problem would be great, but would strike fear in the hearts of the bean counters,I'm guessing. Let's take your hairdresser's idea one step further--one of the most successful advertising campaigns ever was Wendy's "Where's the beef!" (1984, in case most of you out there are too young to remember this.) It was incredibly funny and incredibly effective. Wendy's now, could do turn that around and say, "Where's the finger?"---THAT would win them friends and bring back their customers. (No charge for that free advice, Wendy's.)
I am a shift manager for a Wendys in Southern Louisiana. When the finger in the Chili hoakus went down we experienced alot of people asking for no fingers in their chili and we would just reply with "No fingers today." Or something of the like, and people reacted very positivly to that. Wendys International/Diamond foods are MUCH too anal retentive to accept such a response to slander of our company with humor, so it turned into an internal response resteraunt by resteraunt I suppose...
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