As I continue my deep-dive study in photography and visual media; researching trends and marketing for a particular company over time are fascinating. The ways and means that a brand will employ to re-engage their consumers when done properly are a master class in communication.
The central challenge of marketing is evangelizing a core business product or concept to the needs of an ever-changing audience. To maintain this ability over an extended timeline takes not only skill, luck, and cunning but also a deep understanding of your audience, your product and it’s core value.
Recently I came across a notable example via fast-food burger chain Wendy’s. Named after his daughter, the franchise was originally known for its “nice guy” image cultivated by founder and operator Dave Thomas. The company prided itself on providing fresh-never-frozen, quality fast food.
As sales declined over the years, trends of the digital era demanded that the brand adopt a new attitude along with updating its approaches to youth-oriented marketing. Though the tone of their message had changed their approach to a quality menu was not altered.
The franchise gained notoriety via social media online through snarky tactics that include playfully taunting competition and engaging their users on a hyper-personal level. As a result, their Twitter account quickly garnered 2.46 million followers.
With the online marketing of the brand, Wendy’s have created and cultivated a new virtual persona that is best summarized in their own words via their Twitter bio: “We like our tweets the same way we like our hamburgers: better than anyone expects from a fast food joint.”
The burger spot chain has taken this tactic to a new level and recently released a novelty hip-hop mixtape titled “We Beefin?”, it features rhymes dropped in the first person by “fast foods first lady”. (The album is available on Apple Music, Spotify, and GooglePlay – or listen below)
The cover of the tape features the chains signature square patty, and its font is a tribute to the Notorious BIG album “Ready to Die”. (Geeky Bonus: The cover is a fitting homage to the chains 80’s slogan “Where’s the Beef”, and the “Hypnotize” rappers own song “What’s Beef?”.)
The results are hilarious and it is a hit with its intended audience. As part of a newer marketing trend, Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor touted to the press how the mixtape while not created for a particular product, noted the lyrics emphasize the companies use of fresh beef over their competitor’s use of frozen patties.
It is both at once surreal and surprising to hear a female MC as the personification of a fast food chain mascot rap about being a “Redhead with some pigtails”. In true mixtape fashion, she talks greezy, throwing shade on her competition over trap-inspired beats.
Tracks like “Twitter Fingers” find the persona taking shots at Burger King’s redundant value menu and KFC is dismissively referred to as the “chicken shack”.
MC Wendy saves the sharpest darts for her #1 hater McDonald’s. On the diss track “Clownin” she spits bars that would give Cardi B a run for her money:
“That’s prolly why you go paint your face/My meals are great, people linin’ up like everyday/Leave you in shame, make you run back to Cirque du Soleil/That’s cold game, but what you expect from tryna play/Won’t say no names but you a clown, get it, okay?”
In true rap fashion, the brand made sure to taunt the golden arches with a tweet:
🍔🍔🍔Hey Fam 🔥🔥🔥 Hottest new rapper in the game 🍟🍟🔥 Don’t sleep on this mixtape. 👀👀👀https://t.co/8GGxjfbeL0
— Wendy’s (@Wendys) March 23, 2018
While they aren’t the first brand to employ this type of marketing, with surprisingly high production values, and knowing nods to its targeted audience “WeBeefin?” has garnered favorable reviews on social media and the far reaches of the blogosphere.
These elements add to the viral nature of the mixtape as an art form and further establishing cultural clout and brand awareness.
In my personal opinion, part of the reason the marketing effort feels organic is the natural progression of mischievous taunts into the playful barbs enmeshed in mixtape culture. The lyrical content of the mixtape is a large reflection of that persona.
In comparison, a few years earlier Hamburger Helper released a mixtape titled “Watch the Stove”. (I can’t believe I just typed that.). Content-wise the results are a mixed product, which results in an album that while sounding like a true mixtape. Spend more than a few seconds on any given track and lyrically it veers into cringe-worthy dad joke territory.
Efforts such as this, point out the importance of knowing an audience. Both approaches were looking to create a stake within the same marketing segment through similar approaches.
The “Watch the Stove” cover itself is a nod to Jay-Z and Kanye Wests “Watch the Throne”. The mixtape draws its inspiration from an album created by two perfectionists at the peak of their abilities. At the time of its release, the record was renowned for both its maximalism and excess.
If that was stated the goal of this project, it comes across as haphazard if not simply ineffective.
For example, On the entire WTS mixtape, we don’t even hear from our friend the glove. In all of their advertisements, he is the star of the show. His visage plasters the cover. Yet, he remains an afterthought in most songs or the result of a cringe-inducing punchline.
I will, however, award the project extra credit for R&B slow jam “In Love with the Glove”. The tune borders a line so disturbing, I am unclear as who this was supposed to be marketed to.
Can you seduce someone with ground meat and salty pasta? I don’t know, but we are about to find out.
As weird as it gets, it still doesn’t have the nightmarish quality of Snoop Dogg schilling for Hot Pockets. The Doggfathers single “Drop it Like its Hot” has become a mainstay in his repertoire over the years.
I have no doubt that people who love the LongBeach Legend may enjoy microwaved meat pies. Personally, I feel that this is a case of a lazy slogan idea from the mind of a department head at a marketing/PR firm.
The campaign was released over 10 years after the initial song had charted. While the song remains a radio staple, the initial success and has nothing in common with the artist outside of the phrasing of the song title. Say it with me “POCKET LIKE ITS HOT!”
Someone was paid a lot of money to think of that. LOL.
In defense of the Hot Pocket brand, Snoop Dogg has never been one to shy away from a commercial endorsement. He has made many awkward appearances in movies and lame endorsements before just to collect a quick check. (Cough, cough, Soul Plane.)
This video is notable for going to the lengths of recreating look-and-feel of the original clip but adding a giant dancing Ham & Cheese pastie making it rain little versions of their product. The bizarre nature was attention-getting at the time and surely helped with brand awareness.
Personally, I think this is what your dreams would like if you got food poisoning from a Hot Pocket.
If you have the endorsement of the actual celebrity, you have the luxury of a built-in audience regardless of public opinion. Most often to the viewing audience this is seen as implicit consent and advocacy.
If you are going to market an artform, it is probably best left in the hands of the artist. Because this is not nearly as awkward as large corporations efforts branch out into the burgeoning hip-hop market of the 80’s and 90’s.
Even as a child, I remember how jarring it was to see Ronald Mc Donald or Mickey Mouse try and “rap”.Below is a great example of a brand in the 80’s trying to promote a hot new product.
Here is McDonald’s with some “rapping” chicken nuggets. They’re so rad radical to the extreme, one even has a mohawk! Yet, halfway through the ad we the brand icon telling them their “music is annoying”.
Nice one Dad, I mean Ronald.
I thought Ronald Mc Donald was supposed to be hip? It is possible that the writers implying that underneath all that makeup is a sad man waiting to yell at children to get off of his lawn. Does Ronald really hate rap that much? Maybe Wendy never forgets and there is something behind this rap beef after all.
What do you think of Wendy’s mixtape, what ways will it inspire you to drop a mixtape of your own? Sound off below!