Wendy's twitter-mania: Is brand 'character assassination' a dead end?

| by S.A. Whitehead
Wendy's twitter-mania: Is brand 'character assassination' a dead end?

Americans have always had an affinity for surliness, and Wendy's months-long put-down campaign waged against its competitors on social media is just further proof of that notion.

Oh yeah, in case you have somehow managed to live your life without a total addictive connection to all things social media, you might be unaware that Wendy's has fired off a few tweets calling out brands like McDonald's for allegedly using frozen beef, and most recently, Hardee's for allegedly copying Wendy's 4 for $4 promotion. 

The tweets have garnered a lot of attention from customers and Twitter users, but is it really good business?

There has long been a credo in advertising that great brands don't denigrate, they differentiate. Part of the reasoning for this is that as a largely negative tactic, denigration marketing brings down the entire business sector in the long run, while differentiation is preferred because it focuses on the things a business does well.

So, in other words, when chains start taking shots at each other it never gets less demeaning in tone, only more so. And at some point, this becomes harmful to the business sector — in this case — QSR, as a whole. After all, what's to stop Wendy's putdowns about another brand’s beef quality from ultimately becoming an overall denigration of all the potential actions business operators take to trim expenses in order to stay successful? And when does surliness cross the line into just plain ol' disrespect and hostility?

I know, I know. Sour grapes, right? But the fact is that we have a bit of an anger control problem in this country at the moment and it's manifesting itself in all sorts of ugly ways when it gets out of control.

Social media, like Twitter and Facebook, is like gasoline on the fires of America's burning rage, because these venues rarely deal with real communication, but instead, focus on the real or exaggerated assets of one person or business over another. 

When, for instance, was the last time anyone on your Facebook feed asked for help with a real problem, rather than flaunting photos or superlatives about their extremely successful and socially dazzling children/husband/self/etc.?

Putting down competitors used to be considered a dirty tactic that ultimately ended with everybody losing. Was there any merit to that argument? Or is it just not the way of the world anymore?

I ask only because it's likely that Wendy's great success with this kind of "Don Rickles approach" to promotion and brand marketing will become more common, solely based on that success. And if, for instance, surliness becomes the currency of what is considered great marketing, how will brands hire for that quality and how might that ultimately affect brand and company culture and direction across foodservice?

And finally, when negative campaigning grows to become one of advertising's common standards, how does that affect all of us culturally? After all, particularly here in the US, we are so connected and continually exposed to advertising and promotion for our nation's businesses that it often creates its own cultural standards (for example, anorexia and fashion advertising.)

So, okay, I get it: It's no mystery that Americans are angry about a lot of things today and many rightfully so. But, might it be a good idea to pause a second here and really discuss how that anger is showing up in the way we run our businesses? Is it helping or hurting us? How do we want to embrace or reject it and in what forms?

In the long run, just like all forms of business operation, like foodservice automation, regulation and standards-setting, we, as human beings still do have the power to make choices about the paths we take.


Featured art: iStock

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Marketing, Marketing / Branding / Promotion, Online / Mobile / Social

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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