Earlier this week, several members of the Takeout team received a perfectly standard email. “The following press release is from Wendy’s Iceland,” the email read. “For any more information feel free to contact us through firstname.lastname@example.org.” Attached to the perfectly standard email was a perfectly standard press release, announcing four new Wendy’s locations in several Icelandic cities. I jumped on the story, as fast food franchises traditionally struggle in Iceland. Turns out, I jumped too fast—the whole thing was a hoax orchestrated by Icelandic artist Odee.
Earlier this week, I wrote that Wendy‘s has licensed four locations in Iceland: three locations in and around Reykjavík, a “possible location” in the picturesque town of Akureyri, and an outpost at Keflavík Airport, Iceland‘s main international airport. This information came courtesy of so-called Wendy’s Iceland spokesperson Oddur Friðriksson, the contact behind the initial press release.
I had no reason to doubt Friðriksson. The release linked to a sleek Wendy’s Iceland website, and the email was sent from a wendys.is domain. The Takeout receives dozens of press releases just like this one every day. Plus, Wendy’s is currently undergoing a European expansion, so the Icelandic franchises didn’t seem all that far-fetched. I published the story, dusted off my typin’ fingers, and scuttled away to eat some jelly beans. Then, I received a curt email from another Wendy’s spokesperson. The email read:
“I saw your story about Wendy’s in Iceland, This claim is not legitimate. While Wendy’s doesn’t currently have any development agreements in place to open restaurants in Iceland, interested parties can visit wendys.com/franchising for more information.”
I had no reason to doubt this spokesperson, either—but how would I identify the imposter? I replied to the email, writing:
“Thanks for reaching out. I’d love to hear more about this — is a false press release making the rounds? Do you have any other information I might be able to pass along to my editor?”
The Wendy’s representative replied a few minutes later. “No other information,” they wrote. “I suggest you reach out to the person who issued the press release.”
I did as I was told and shot another email to Oddur Friðriksson. I wrote:
“My team just heard from a Wendy’s US spokesperson who argued that your claims about opening Wendy’s locations in Iceland are false and not associated with the Wendy’s brand. Would you care to comment? If this is a hoax, it’s an awfully good one, and I’d like to learn more about it.”
Friðriksson replied almost immediately, assuring me that the announcement was not a hoax. Head spinning, I went into Girl With the Dragon Tattoo mode. What is truth? What is fiction? Who could I trust? Desperate for answers, I turned to a handy tool in the modern detective’s toolbox: LinkedIn.
I found the American Wendy’s spokesperson right away. Per LinkedIn, they’d been working as a communications professional for the brand for six years. But I couldn’t find Oddur Friðriksson—until I pulled up LinkedIn’s Icelandic domain. There he was. Oddur Friðriksson, also known as Odee, a “visual mashup and concept artist.”
Digging into Odee’s LinkedIn profile, I realized he’s the mind behind MOM Air, a spoof airline that went viral in 2020. That project was revealed to be a hoax after much social media chatter. At that point, Odee told CNN his goal was to “show exactly how obscure our reality is — that we are talked to through marketing... and that just by setting up a website and sending out press releases, it turned our world upside down.” I mean, yeah. He’s not wrong.
I reached out to Odee, asking if he’d like a chance to comment on this project. I didn’t receive a response, but he certainly made his point. I already fancy myself a brand skeptic, but I’m about to approach my fact-checking with an even more paranoid persuasion. Good luck getting your April Fool’s promotions past me, brands.