Wendy’s Twitter Presence: The Art of Creating “Beef” over Beef

On March 30, 2017, McDonald’s released a statement on Twitter announcing that, by mid-2018, all Quarter Pounder burgers at the majority of their restaurants would be cooked with fresh beef. Within hours, the post was completely overshadowed by a Wendy’s tweet that read, “@McDonalds So you’ll still use frozen beef in MOST of your burgers in ALL of your restaurants? Asking for a friend.” Wendy’s reply got 72,636 retweets and 180,646 likes, compared to 5,800 retweets and 8,000 likes on the original post. Moreover, the entire PR campaign was undermined, as subsequently 82% of the online conversation regarding McDonald’s adoption of fresh beef revolved around Wendy’s witty reply.

In the past couple years, Wendy’s Twitter account has developed an increasingly successful online presence. A large part of Wendy’s Twitter presence is dedicated to grilling its competitors, with a particular emphasis on McDonald’s, Burger King, and Hardee’s. As Wendy’s reputation for spirited banter captured the attention of the Twitter world and beyond, individuals increasingly reached out to the company on Twitter to roast them or to ask Wendy’s to roast them. For example, on January 3, 2017, in response to a roast request, Wendy’s bluntly told a man with the handle @LacedlLouie, “Get one of your 51 followers to roast you.” Moreover, on January 2, 2017, Wendy’s poked fun at a user named “Thuggy D,” who claimed it was impossible to transport unfrozen hamburger meat, for apparently forgetting about the existence of refrigerators. Immediately after this post, Wendy’s Twitter account had 20 million visits and 200,000 new followers. This was surely aided by media outlets releasing 222 different stories featuring the Twitter exchange. Wendy’s brand has become so closely linked to its feisty online persona that Wendy’s recently released a mixtape on Spotify on March 23 called “We Beefin?” A five-track EP, the mixtape features songs such as “Twitter Fingers” and “Clownin,” which explicitly “diss” McDonald’s and Burger King.

How did a company with a logo of a red-headed young girl develop such a fiery Twitter presence? In part, Wendy’s developed the rambunctious voice that it did because it was responding to the general tone of the Twitterverse. Twitter is a haven for blunt, biting remarks and roasts. Cognizant of the general discourse on the medium, Wendy’s astutely crafted an identity suited for the Twitter world that would effectively engage users and make its brand come to life, while additionally providing a breeding ground for new loyal customers. While sassy retorts, roasts, and rap-battling at first glance may seem incongruous with the image of a young, seemingly-innocent girl, the changed voice had enabled the company to develop a more intriguing and multi-faceted brand identity. Further, this identity is not necessarily a complete detachment from its historical brand identity. According to VML, the digital and creative agency of record for Wendy’s since 2012, and overseer of its brand voice across all social media channels, its brand voice as a “challenger with charm” has been a key component of its brand identity throughout the company’s history. As a company that has always competed with McDonald’s and Burger King for market share but often ends in a close third, Wendy’s feisty, at times ruthless voice comes off more as a rambunctious younger sibling standing up to older, tougher brothers or sisters, or David standing up to two Goliaths. Thus, these spurts of wit and ruthlessness are not only cohesive with its brand, but are also uniquely acceptable and well-received for an underdog company like Wendy’s, as an attempt by McDonald’s to establish a similar voice may be regarded as arrogant.

VP and Head of Advertising, Media, Digital, and Social Media Brandon Rhoten observes that this underdog mentality translated to their iconic 1984 “Where’s the Beef?” campaign, in which they called out their competitors for not serving fresh beef. The resurgence in challenging competitors, Rhoten notes, has allowed Wendy’s to embrace its true identity again. According to Rhoten, “Brands really come to life when they can have a relationship with people and social is the richest place to do it right now. I would say our brand is best articulated in social.” In establishing an engaged, snarky Twitter presence, Wendy’s not only adopted a persona that would be well-received on the medium but also established a more cohesive identity that stayed true to its original messaging of selling “frozen, not fresh” beef.

Wendy’s rambunctious Twitter persona has led to an astronomical increase in its Twitter followers and overall online presence. Has an increase in engagements with consumers online translated to increased brand loyalty and sales? At first glance, there seems to be no correlation. As Wendy’s online presence skyrocketed in 2017, its same-store sales increased 2%, whereas McDonald’s same-store sales increased 5.6%. Additionally, according to a January 2018 study by 1010data, while 88% of McDonald’s customers state they will be returning customers, the figure is only 78% for Wendy’s. However, there is some reason to consider that an increase in retweets is correlating to success in sales. For one, in April 2017, when a Nevada teen’s post asking Wendy’s for a year’s supply of chicken nuggets if he got enough retweets became the most retweeted post of all time, Wendy’s earned 213,000 new Twitter followers and 23.9 million visits to the profile. Further, its same-store sales from April to July increased 3.2%, while it had only increased 0.4% the year before. Additionally, in 2016 and 2017, Wendy’s was not a relentless roaster of one competitor, but rather targeted several competitors. This likely did not lead to a decrease in market share of its competitors because Wendy’s roasts were untargeted. In 2018, with PR campaigns such as #NationalFrozenFoodDay on March 6, which targeted McDonald’s use of frozen beef, Wendy’s ruthless online persona might make an impact on customers and cause a dent in McDonald’s sales, as well as their sizable market share.

Wendy’s Twitter account encapsulates its brand voice of a feisty younger sibling and links its persona of a “charming challenger” that was previously utilized in more traditional PR campaigns and mediums to the digital age. Wendy’s online presence certainly has created entertaining “beef” over beef, but only time will tell if the grilling will cause Wendy’s to become a bigger chef in the kitchen.