In New Wendy's Ad, Will People See Founder's Daughter or Obesity Crisis?

Last Updated Nov 15, 2010 2:00 PM EST

A new ad for the Wendy's (WEN) burger chain is sure to get people talking, but possibly for the wrong reasons (video below). It stars Wendy Thomas, daughter of Wendy's founder Dave Thomas, who is not the rail-thin actress who played her in ads as a little girl.

Obviously, no adult remains the size they were as a child. And it's difficult to separate the hypocrisy involved in the monitoring of women's body sizes compared to men's. But given the debate over the role of fast-food in the U.S.'s obesity crisis, Wendy's may be taking a risk by using Ms. Thomas.

The product being advertised is "Dave's Hot and Juicy" burger, which features two meat patties, two slices of cheese, and some salad inside a "butter-toasted bun." Ms. Thomas has an appealing presence and there is something charming about knowing that the girl for whom the company is named is a franchise holder decades later. But commenters under Ad Age's item about the new campaign (from ad agency The Kaplan Thaler Group) have zeroed in on the negative side:
TommyDeVito: Don't mean to sound impolite, but given all the controversy connecting obesity and fast food, it seems peculiar--even dumb--to connect Ms. Thomas with the restaurant. And it's all for a new, ultra-big cheeseburger! The advertising agency should have politely discouraged their client from putting herself in a bad position. What was Kaplan Thaler Group thinking?
rwabels: I agree with Tommy DeV. It woulda been better if Wendy didn't look like she was raised on fast food! But Dave wasn't so svelte himself, so she is who she is.
Commenters on the Las Vegas Sun's site -- the new product is being tested in Nevada -- are more kind, although seven of 22 comments were deleted by a moderator:
revtomperl: Often the best man for the job is a woman. Hmmm, well good luck to ya, Wendy!
Wendy's has been in an eight-year search for a new direction in its marketing since Dave Thomas died in 2002. Sales are down through the first nine months of this year. Adfreak has a series of posts on Wendy's marketing that, taken together, show a company in desperate need of consistency and direction. Recent ideas included using men in red pigtail wigs. And did you know that The Violent Femmes have refused to play together again due to a split over whether they should have allowed Wendy's to use "Blister in the Sun" in one of their ads? In addition, the massive ad budget of rival McDonalds (MCD) and the offbeat marketing of Burger King (BK) have somewhat eclipsed the square-burger chain.

Wendy Thomas may or may not be the face to turn the chain around, but she is sure likely to get the short-term attention the chain needs.


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