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Wendy's keeps focus on value

DUBLIN Ohio Wendy’s new advertising campaign, carrying the tagline “You Know When It’s Real,” may put the spotlight on product quality, but chain officials and consumers apparently haven’t lost sight of that other pillar of quick-service branding: value.

In an interview with Nation’s Restaurant News to announce the debut of its ad campaign and its newest menu item, the Bacon Deluxe premium burger, chief marketing officer Ken Calwell explained that a focus on quality by no means shortchanges the importance of value.

“Regardless of age and gender, all people want value,” Calwell said. “If you dig deeper, how do you define value? One group [of consumers] says it’s about what I pay more than what I get. Another group says value is what I get, then what I paid. We’ve always been committed to 99-cent items, and we’ll come back to that later in the year, but then we also do things like [the Bacon Deluxe].”

Asignificant portion of Wendy’s commercials under its just-completed “It’s Waaaay Better Than Fast Food” campaign were dedicated to value-priced items, including the “3-conomics” ads that highlighted the chain’s three sandwiches for 99 cents.

According to consumer perception research from BrandIndex, Wendy’s value perceptions actually improved during the month of September and into October, while the chain transitioned from one quality-focused campaign, “It’s Waaaay Better Than Fast Food,” to the new “You Know When It’s Real” messaging.

BrandIndex found that Wendy’s ratings for value steadily rose in September from a starting value of 34 to a peak of about 44.

BrandIndex calculates its scores by interviewing 5,000 American consumers every day and subtracting negative responses from positive responses. Scores of zero denote a neutral perception from consumers, while ratings can span from negative 100 for a completely negative consumer perception all the way to a completely positive perception with a score of 100.

Ted Marzilli, senior vice president and general manager of the Brand Group for YouGov Polimetrix, BrandIndex’s parent company, said that just as Wendy’s maintains a nuanced view of what value means, so do recession-weary consumers.

“QSRs in general are benefiting from this economic situation and [from consumers] trading down,” Marzilli said, “and consumers are reconsidering their notions of value. When we look at this over the past nine months of 2009, or the past 15 months, you really see that.”

Wendy’s two main competitors recorded value scores that stayed relatively flat through September, Marzilli said. McDonald’s scores fluctuated from 22 to 25, and Burger King’s ratings went from 25 to 27.

Marzilli said that perhaps Wendy’s value ratings started out higher than its closest competitors’ and remained that way because the chain has worked to differentiate itself through quality-focused messaging.

“Value’s not just what you pay, but what you get, right?” he said. “In the auto industry, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota have different price points, but their value ratings are both quite high. Similarly, I think Wendy’s messaging leads to higher value ratings versus McDonald’s and Burger King.”

Value scores for all three brands began to slip in October, however. As of Oct. 8, Wendy’s value perception score was 39.5, while Burger King and McDonald’s scored ratings of 26.5 and 20.5, respectively.

“With these sorts of value campaigns, it really varies how long they stick,” Marzilli said. “McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s are advertising all the time, with multiple types of messages. Denny’s, on the other hand, makes a big splash at the Super Bowl [with a free breakfast giveaway], and that’s what people remember [about the brand] for the next couple of months.”

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].

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