Monday, January 19, 2009

Wendy's goes a little 3-kee

Wendy’s new commercials are raising eyebrows among the intelligentsia. Could a chain with a red-pigtailed mascot be using an unconventional but popular theory of economics as the new slogan for its value menu? Did it pass on “Wendy’s/Supply side in action” before settling on the new catchphrase, “Freakonomics?”

Most definitely not, because the term is actually “3conomics,” a reference to the value menu’s inclusion of three sandwiches, or apparently more than the other brands sport. But the subtle difference in the phrases is being missed by a lot of people, including Steven D. Levitt, the University of Chicago professor who forged the economic theory.

I saw the commercial and admittedly wondered how Wendy’s had secured licensing rights to “Freakonomics,” the subject of a best-selling, must-read book for any student of business. I didn’t catch the “3conomics” reference until the controversy erupted. Nor did the goodly number of fellow bloggers and commentators. Many wondered how Levitt could allow his term to be put to such crassly commercial use

I’m surprised there also wasn’t more discussion about the whole approach of the campaign. Clearly the chain’s new parent, Wendy’s/Arby’s Group, is trying to harness to the same sort of zaniness that works for Burger King. Apparently there’s a large segment of the population that maintains, “Wow, this brand is really off-the-wall. Think I’ll go have one of their burgers.”

Then again, the approach has worked stunningly well for BK and its creepy mascot, the King.

But contriving to be irreverent and kooky is a risky move. It’s too dangerous to come across as insincere and fake—the Monkeys compared with the Beatles.

And it’s hard to be genuinely in touch with the quirky tastes of the youngsters targeted in such efforts. That’s the true brilliance, if you can call it that, of BK’s marketing. Consider, for instance, this online cult favorite of the chain, known as “Eat like snake.”

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