Back to Basics POVs

Beefing Up Brands

Written by Kenon Mak

“Everyone knows about the trauma, no one knows about the growth.” – Sheryl Sandberg

The marketing industry has been going through turbulent times. Television continues to decline year-over-year and data privacy scandals have led to an all-time high in public distrust of the media. Particularly in the past few years, major disruptors have led to mass pessimism over the industry’s future outlook.

Yet if nothing else today’s speakers inspired a bit of optimism in me.

In Beefin’ Up Brands, Mark Read, Kurt Kane, and Debbi Vandeven came together to talk about the creative transformation of Wendy’s. With the help of VMLY&R they re-imagined what their decades old brand would look like in a rapidly changing cultural environment. To do this they needed to transform their organizational structure to be more culturally responsive. Wendy’s built up an always-on social team and transformed Wendy’s Twitter account into a highly entertaining stream of consciousness that has kept millions engaged. Where some advertisers would shy away from replying to online trolls, Wendy’s leans-in to it and employs their responsive teams of copywriters to craft witty responses that are consistent in voice with that of Dave Thomas’ TV ads from the 90s. For Wendy’s, it was important to retain the voice across channels. With their Fortnite execution, they created a viral movement that involved destroying in-game meat freezers on point with their “never-frozen beef” positioning. To pull off such an execution meant that both the agency team needed to be fully embedded in the culture, understanding the Fortnite and gaming culture at large, while simultaneously getting full client buy-in. Wendy’s Kane says that the team thought about the Fortnite idea for just “over a day” and when they brought the idea to him, he said, “Yes, we should do that.” This kind of buy-in at all levels creates a symbiotic relationship between agency and client and allows for a truly culturally responsive brand. As Read said, in the old model you created a campaign for TV and added digital elements around it. Wendy’s has flipped that model by creating a digital-first identity and created TV spots that support it. Ultimately, the voice comes through across both channels.

If I had to identify a central theme to today’s talks it would be renewal.

During a conversation with Sheryl Sandberg, she says that the challenges Facebook had faced in recent years was an opportunity to acknowledge their mistakes and get better. Corporate resilience means having the humility to accept that something needs to change.  

When Sandberg lost her husband in 2015 she asked herself if she would have enough resilience to keep on going. She then realized that resilience isn’t a set amount you are born with, it is a muscle that you could grow. Sandberg feels the issues surrounding Facebook gives them growth opportunities as well. As she says, “Everyone knows the trauma, no one knows about the growth.”

To create longevity in media agencies, it is imperative that they acknowledge that fundamental organizational change is in order. Media agencies need to strengthen their relationship with clients to create fluid workflows and allow for rapid campaign ideation. At the same time, trust needs to be built with the client to successfully get buy-in on those ideas. Gone are the days of months or years long planning—the time scale needs to be immediate.