Iconic Ads: Wendy’s – Where’s The Beef?

The combination of the creative director, the film director and the main model did the trick for this iconic line and campaign

McDonald’s and Burger King dominated the fast-food burger market, with products like the “Big Mac” and “Whopper” emphasizing the size of their burgers.

Wendy’s didn’t offer any “big-name” burgers, and the majority of their offerings were ‘Single’ patty burgers. They did, however, contain more meat than the others.

They wanted to show that their hamburger had more beef, whereas the others used wider buns to hide their lack of meat. Wendy’s intended to call them out on their practices while also demonstrating that their beef was superior. So, how would they go about doing this?

Dancer Fitzgerald Sample was in charge of the account. Cliff Freeman, the witty creative director, teamed up with Joe Sedelmaier, the director.

In the 70s, ads would always include glamorous looking people/models. They used flawless-looking persons to project an image of perfection for whatever product was being marketed.

Sedelmaier & Freeman overhauled everything, including the appearance of ads. They cast regular-looking and often unattractive people instead of perfect-looking performers.

This was revolutionary at the time.

Instead of making advertisements look like a slick, movie-like production, Sedalmaier gave them a looser tone. Instead of looking like every other ad, he wanted to develop advertisements that were more exciting and engaging.

People with weird emotions sped up and slowed down movements, and exaggerated loping walks would all appear in his advertisements.

Freeman and Sedalmaier’s purpose was to highlight how other big brands used buns to hide their meat.

Sedelmaier used average people in his ads to great success. It began as a commercial showcasing a young couple; they were ordinary-looking folks, not models, yet the advertisement was simply not funny!

After ditching the young couple version, they came up with a storyboard for two other versions.

“Thanks, but where’s the beef?” said one of the older males, who was an elderly bald man in one rendition. They had another version they had made with three older ladies, including one named Clara Peller, who they had discovered, but it didn’t seem to connect very well.

Peller, who was born in 1902, had worked at a Chicago beauty salon for 35 years. A manicurist was sought for a commercial shot in Chicago that needed to be situated in a barbershop. They took a chance by casting Pellar, who is 80 years old, in the role.

They admired her no-nonsense demeanour and distinctive voice. And signed her to an agency deal because they thought she could help them. Peller was deaf and could only memorize short lines of conversation, which limited her ability to perform on camera.

She began appearing in multiple ads, catching the attention of Wendy’s executives, who put her in their new advertisement. She’d play a key role in the commercial’s success.

They presented the two versions of the advertisement to the ad committee, which consisted of six executives and ten franchisees. They turned it down. Because of Peller’s louder and harsher manner of speaking, the committee decided the version with her was a touch too abrupt.

They tweaked a few things, and the second version of the commercial — the one you’re familiar with — received positive feedback. Many people don’t realize it, but in an old-fashioned a/b split test, the version with the three men aired alongside the version with Pellar.

The version with Peller became so popular that they had to abandon the one with the old guys and concentrate on the trio of older females. The commercial went viral in a big way. Even though it was only scheduled to be on the air for a few weeks, it ended up being on for ten.

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