The customer is always right. That’s one of the pillars of doing business, especially in the service industry. However, one company has flipped that maxim on its head and somehow people love them more for it. Over the past few years Wendy’s, the American fast food burger chain, has caught the attention of the internet by developing a sassy, and sometimes even rude, twitter personality which is targeted at internet trolls, competition, and even their own customers.
Wendy’s joined twitter in 2009, but their sarcastic social media personality first made its appearance in 2017. Early in January, one twitter user decided that the internet was the right place to let Wendy’s know that they didn’t believe their “fresh, never frozen” tagline. The user responded to a Wendy’s promotional tweet saying, “So you deliver [burgers] raw on a hot truck?”. The twitter manager at the time, Amy Brown, responded from her couch, almost without thinking reminding the user that refrigerators do in fact exist. Check out the exchange below:
Brown recalled that in the 24 hours after that tweet Wendy’s received more tweets “than it had in the past month”. Twitter users were incredibly responsive to this snarky attitude and the account quickly blew up and the social media managers struggled to keep up with enough witty content to satisfy the internet. Today Wendy’s twitter boasts over 3 million followers and their twitter bio is as much about their now famous personality as it is about the products they’re selling. “We like our tweets the same way we like to make hamburgers: better than anyone expects from a fast food joint”. It’s not just internet trolls that Wendy’s hits with their signature roasts now, its competition (like their famous “Twitter Beef” with McDonalds) and even their own customers. They’ve even gone as far as getting blocked by Hardee’s and calling January 4th National Roast Day and offering to roast anyone on twitter who wanted to be insulted. Their regular roasts are mixed in with traditional promotional posts for their food, which has also developed a similar sassy tone of voice. Most users follow for the entertaining content and are still exposed to the informational product postings as well.
Clearly the initial success of the account was spontaneous and happened faster than anyone on the team expected (Brown didn’t even expect any response to her first sassy tweet). But how does this team operate today? The team behind the infamous twitter roasting account sat down for a Q&A via reddit and let pretty much anyone ask them anything. Here are some highlights:
- They have a lot of creative liberties. Most of their tweets don’t need approval – except the McDonalds ones, they say, likely for legal reasons. The last thing they need is a lawsuit from the fast food giant.
- “Success happened before anyone had a chance to be scared”. They never had the chance to second guess and spend time debating whether a sarcastic personality would be successful on the internet. All it took was one impulsive tweet and they stumbled on twitter greatness.
- They measure success by following impressions, engagements, brand metrics and “other marketing mumbo jumbo”.
- The team didn’t study meme-ing, roasting, or internet burns in school, they’re just a bunch of young people with a knack for the internet and a sassy side that went unnoticed until now.
- They are now “strictly forbidden” from giving users a certain number of likes to surpass for free chicken nuggets.
Why it Works
Simply put, it’s really funny. Fast food is a far from serious business in the eyes of consumers so the industry is kind of a perfect match for the personality they’ve developed. Further, twitter is definitely the right platform. This strategy might not work on Facebook or Instagram, which is why the team sticks to twitter for their signature roasts. Their classic humor doesn’t really match up with the image heavy format of Instagram, and the attitude that young people now know and love might not be as attractive to older demographic that’s more active on Facebook. Their consistently controversial and cheeky nature fits right in on twitter.
Twitter (and the internet in general) is the last place you’d expect a fast food company to thrive. It seems like the only people who spend their time talking about greasy fast food on twitter are people who had really bad experiences or just nothing better to do. Basically trolls. Internet trolls are the kind of people who spend their time going after fast food chains on twitter. Pre-2017, a fast food social media manager was probably the most unattractive job opportunity out there. However, Wendy’s took what seemed to be a challenge (the feeling that maybe fast food just didn’t belong on twitter – maybe they were asking for scathing public internet reviews) and turned it into their differentiating factor which majorly helped their brand recognition. Up until 2017, most fast food social media advertising focused used low prices and bright colors to attract attention. By adopting the tone of (clapping back at, if you will) the exact kinds of people who were interacting with them on the internet to begin with, Wendy’s both gained the respect of these critics and the attention of the world – because who doesn’t love a good internet roast?
Despite their past success, Wendy’s walks a thin line; there are some obvious risks to this strategy. The tone could be alienating to some who don’t share the same sense of humor. And especially in today’s climate, all it takes is one bad joke to take the whole thing too far. The team admits to having been “talked to” about some tweets, but overall quickly sends out their tweets with little oversight. One lapse in judgment and their cheeky brand image could quickly turn rude, insensitive, and just plain mean. Not to mention the potential of legal battles with other large fast food chains (not sure if you can sue over a tweet, but hey, there’s a first time for everything).
So far this strategy is working well for Wendy’s. They’re enjoying internet fame and increased sales; “people say they go eat because of the tweets,” the team says, “and no one has ever lied on the internet”. In addition, many other fast food chains have had to adapt their own social strategies to respond to the sometimes aggressive Wendy’s tweets (the internet loves a good fight). Other brands can (and have) taken advantage of this kind of strategy. They must consider a few things and make adaptions to the style of humor to make sure their customer base will appreciate it. What kind of humor and tone resonates with your audience and your target customers? Find an appropriate level of sassiness so as to not alienate your audience. Find the appropriate platform. Measure engagement and interactions from your followers. Start slow and escalate from there – remember that all it takes is one joke to cross the line. While these tips can help you develop an appropriate personality to resonate with your brand’s internet audience, it’s also important to remember that a big part of Wendy’s success was how authentic and spontaneous their initial “roast” was. People don’t want a cookie cutter version of another Wendy’s twitter; they want something to surprise them and make them laugh.
Amy Brown, the woman behind the original Wendy’s roast concluded her own blog post by saying, “nobody decides to become a meme. The internet decides that for you”. So I guess that’s really the whole point of this. I (or any professor, social media manager, etc.) can offer as much advice as they want, as many tips on how to imitate success as we can think of. But at the end of the day, it’s the unexpected, never-been-seen-before ideas and personalities that take a company from a crappy fast food hamburger joint to one of the most popular internet brands and personalities of today. As much as you can take the advice of this post and of Wendy’s to perhaps increase engagement and visibility of your brand a little, what customers and users are really looking for is a personality that is unique (not a replica of another brand) to differentiate one company from another. Know the personality of your customers and develop your own strong and distinctive voice.