I’ve gone on record as an unabashed and enthusiastic fan of Wendy’s. There were times in my impoverished early 20s when I subsisted on its Mandarin Chicken Salads and Double Stacks. Even today, as my palate expanded and matured, I still believe their burgers are on a higher plane than other multinational chains like McDonald’s and Burger King. Their Giant Junior Bacon Cheeseburger, which Wendy’s offered as a limited-time menu item last fall, was in my eyes fast food’s greatest burger, ever.
But it’s getting awfully hard to root for them these days.
Where Wendy’s has garnered attention these last few years is its embrace of social media, lauded by outside observers as responsive and innovative. It’s also been known for its use of humor—some would say snark—to interact with customers and to lob pointed barbs at competitors. Wendy’s has clearly found success in this realm, and it seems the company prerogative has been to double down on the strategy. But in that process, it’s become what I hate most about social media—Wendy’s has become an internet troll.
Consider how Wendy’s Twitter account responded when McDonald’s announced it would be switching some of its burgers to fresh beef this week.
Over nine tweets, Wendy’s mercilessly roasted McDonald’s, posting deflated photos of its burgers and pointing out the sandwiches that will still employ frozen patties (Only McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese, for now, will use fresh beef). It’s a bit of pot-calling-kettle-black, since Wendy’s itself doesn’t use fresh beef at all its locations.
Most on Twitter laughed it off as harmless jabs, applauding Wendy’s—the 6th largest fast food chain in America—for knocking its top-ranked competitor. But at some point humor treads into dickishness, and I’m not the only one noticing this.
Wendy’s also paid for a 30-second commercial spot during this year’s Super Bowl, in which the ad directed aim at McDonald’s and its use of frozen patties. Responding to AdAge’s question of whether the chain heard back from McDonald’s, Wendy’s Chief Content and Marketing Officer Kurt Kane told the publication:
“They have been frozen on their response so far,” Kane says, with a clearly rehearsed response.
Goodness, Kurt, act like you’ve been there before.
I remember a time when Wendy’s was the wholesome hamburger chain with Midwest roots. Dave Thomas, its folksy founder and kindly face of Wendy’s commercials, named the restaurant after his daughter. Clearly, humor has played an essential element in its campaigns—the “Where’s the beef?” commercials resonated when it first aired in 1984, and that phrase went on to enter the cultural vernacular.
But claiming humor as defense can only shield you so much from being an internet troll. I’m certainly not thin-skinned enough to take offense, but when Twitter has become a cesspool of aggressive, petty, bullying behavior, Wendy’s social media strategy is yet another nudge encouraging me to spend less time on the platform. Being a dick on Twitter is the last thing we need.
And that’s a shame, because I love me a good Wendy’s burger. And when I feel less empathy towards a brand, it lodges somewhere in my brain. We look to fast food for familiarity, and once it veers from comfort into mean-spiritedness, that’s when I start changing my decision-making habits. Such as, whether I decide to either turn into Wendy’s drive-through, or keep heading down the street until I see the golden arches.