VMLY&R: Wendy’s Still Fresh. Never Frozen.

Influencer on the red carpet being photographed with Wendy's head imposed

VMLY&R: Wendy’s Still Fresh. Never Frozen.

Building affinity among the next generation of fast-food eaters

Fast food was fun when it emerged decades ago. It was emotive. It was a treat. Over time, it became cold and functional, and Wendy’s fell by the wayside in the American imagination. In a category dominated by McDonald’s, which has nearly three restaurants for every Wendy’s outlet, it will never be the most readily available or convenient option.

Wendy’s best chance of thriving is to be more meaningful than functional. For the last five years, Wendy’s aim has been to: “Make America fall in love with Wendy’s again.” While older generations have fond memories of Wendy’s, 18-34-year-olds – fast food’s most frequent consumers – knew the brand as a hamburger restaurant their parents and grandparents liked.

Most brands pay influencers so they can borrow their credibility and reach new audiences. Wendy’s and VMLY&R have taken the opposite approach. Instead of buying into culture, they helped create it, making Wendy’s a cultural influencer in its own right.

To be a cultural influencer, you have to push the boundaries of accepted culture. So VMLY&R and Wendy’s redefined how brands can act online and behaved more like a human than a corporation. After all, people don’t love businesses; people love people.

Wendy’s became famous for its sassy, charismatic Twitter, redefining how brands act online with moments like #NuggsforCarter and #NationalRoastDay. They released a chart-topping mixtape. They became a top 1% streaming gamer on Twitch.

And people loved Wendy’s. Mainstream entertainment outlets – Good Morning America, The Daily Show, Netflix’s Space Force and Dave, to name a few – name-dropped them. They even got referenced inside an NFL huddle. All of this generated more than 54.6bn earned media impressions.

To build affinity with the next generation of fast-food eaters – not by buying it but by earning it – Wendy’s became the kind of creator they love, and a cultural authority people and brands wanted to associate with. So, while America fell in love with Wendy’s again, Wendy’s experienced 15 straight quarters of sales growth, overtaking Burger King to become the No. 2 fast food hamburger restaurant in America.