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Wendy’s exec urges marketers to tap partners’ expertise for mobile success

NEW YORK – A Wendy’s executive at the 2015 Mobile Marketing Association Forum New York said brands should feel no shame about lacking mobile marketing expertise provided they are partnered with a mobile expert who can show them the way.

The session, “Like a Pretzel Love Song: Wendy’s, Yahoo and Native Advertising,” looked at how the hamburger chain has leveraged entertaining campaigns like “Pretzel Love Song” through native ads that drive engagement.

“There is no reason we should know how to use Tumblr,” said Brandon Rhoten, vice president of digital and social media with Wendy’s, Columbus, OH. “It’s not where we grew up.

“So the biggest piece of advice I give is, ‘Be humble and back up and say ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’” he said. “Go to your partners and talk to them. How can you fit the context of that platform at the same time you stand out?

“We don’t know what were doing 85 percent of the time,” he said. “The successes we’ve had are awesome but it is really very cool to admit you don’t know what you are doing.”

Pretzel Bun
In July, Wendy’s, which has amassed a portfolio of successful campaigns on mobile, held a Times Square Pretzel Bun event that allowed fans to sing love songs and share them with friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Brandon Rhoten, right, with Kevin Gentzel at MMA Forum New York.

To mark the return of its Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger and Pretzel Pub Chicken, the hamburger chain brought a karaoke booth to Times Square, where consumers could create a music video singing a pretzel love song from a Wendy’s television commercial, interact with best-selling R&B group Boyz II Men, and share their music video on Facebook and Twitter.

The campaign reflected how Wendy’s mobile and social media strategy is driven by its determination to be close to consumers who tend to make fast-food dining decisions close to when they actually eat.

In October, Wendy’s promoted a new line of barbecue menu items by tapping celebrities actor Alfonso Ribeiro, filmmaker Ralph Macchio and former professional wrestler Steve Austin. In a country where barbecue styles are a source of fierce regional pride, the tongue-in-cheek campaign advocated barbecue democracy.

The awareness campaign, which included Macchio in a video campaigning for greater access to quality barbecue pulled pork, fit with Wendy’s business model which is built on short-window offerings that aim to catch the diner’s attention.

“Barbecue is a deep seated Americanness,” Mr. Rhoten said at the forum in conversation with Kevin Gentzel, head of advertising sales with Yahoo. “You can’t mess with barbecue. It’s that deep and emotional.

“You come out with barbecue, it’s borderline heresy for certain parts of the country,” he said. “So we made sure our effort was inclusive.”

The campaign was an example of how Wendy’s is reaping the benefits of combining social media platforms with a greater digital outreach. It has leveraged social in advertising incentives and rewards and promoting time-sensitive offers that drive store traffic.

Typically, the chain delivers a message in a small time window before a purchase decision is made. Social allows the company to tailor its outreach.

Wendy’s, which does not sell food online, measures program effectiveness by correlating sales to advertising.

The chain is setting an example for its rivals. McDonald’s earlier this year switched up its traditionally rich media-heavy mobile advertisements with a new native ad campaign that touted the origins of its coffee drinks.

McDonald’s mobile ads ran within the mobile sites of publishers including Time Inc.’s Real Simple and Hearst’s Elle. With the burger chain recently reporting same-store sales declines, the native strategy could help it appeal to younger consumers, an important demographic for the brand.

Driving sales
Wendy’s strategy in selecting a partner is to find an ally that will drive sales.

Getting closer to customers on mobile.


“It might get some attention to be there,” Mr. Rhoten said. But if it doesn’t attract foot traffic, we can’t use it.”

“Also, do they have the appropriate measures and resources in place to prove what they’re selling me that they actually did it?” he said.

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York