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Brandon RhotenVice President, Advertising, Media and DigitalWendy's
Millennials represent a significant portion of Wendy’s customer base. Over the past two years, the company has built campaigns targeting this critical demographic with content designed not only to sell burgers, but also to entertain millennial consumers and appeal to their penchant for transparency. Brandon Rhoten, Wendy’s vice president of advertising, media and digital, spoke to eMarketer’s Maria Minsker about how the brand’s advertising strategy continues to evolve.
eMarketer: What is your video advertising strategy when it comes to targeting millennials?
Brandon Rhoten: What we’re noticing about millennials is that they care about real food. They care about the brand’s story and why it does what it does, but they couldn’t care less about the business side. This summer, we ran a campaign about how our lettuce comes from the field to the store within a few days.
We use fresh chopped instead of bagged lettuce, and the television campaign described why we do this. The digital expression of that was a GoPro camera strapped to a head of lettuce, which captured its journey from the field to the inside of a Wendy’s salad.
eMarketer: You mentioned a television campaign. Are millennials watching as much television as older generations?
Rhoten: Millennials do watch television, but the way they watch television is a little different, and they’re setting the standard for everyone else. Everyone is starting to fall into this trap where the television is on, but there’s also an iPad in the viewer’s lap, and maybe a smartphone as well. With these other devices involved, are consumers paying as much attention to those television spots as they were 15 years ago? Probably not.
eMarketer: How have new types of video content changed the definition of television?
Rhoten: Streaming video has dramatically changed the perception of what television is. The old days when you sat in front of the television at eight o’clock on a Thursday night and watched NBC until 10:30 or 11 pm are gone.
People still do appointment television for sports, but otherwise viewers consume content when they feel like consuming it. This reality has changed what content needs to look like, as well as when and how content needs to be delivered. Our media plans are now typically heavy on the online video component because we know that a lot of people are watching television on NBC’s app or on Hulu instead of watching it live.
eMarketer: How has the growth of online video affected the content of your ads?
Rhoten: We have creative designed to fit specifically into that environment. We just ran a campaign for the Baconator, and the spots that ran online were very different than the ones on television. A television spot is built to be a self-contained story, while an online spot is part of a larger piece of content.
You can click on it—you can go do other things. It’s so fundamentally different that it warrants creating a unique, appropriate experience for the platform. Last year, we ran an online ad campaign with Boyz II Men. It was a music video featuring the band singing about a pretzel bun, and it trended on Spotify because it was so popular. We were presenting it as entertainment, while clearly selling our product.
eMarketer: Is an entertainment component the primary difference between online and television video ads? Is online content more entertainment-driven, while television ads still rely on the standard, informative ad format?
Rhoten: Yes, that’s true for most advertisers. The really good television advertisers are moving toward entertainment as well. Most of our spots aren’t there yet, but we’re working on it.
The other component that differentiates online content is realness. Marketing used to be smoke and mirrors. It used to be “go and buy this thing because it’s wonderful,” but now everyone can instantly determine whether you’re lying about a product based on reviews. Smartphones have dramatically changed the landscape of advertising. Television hasnt quite caught up. Online, people can talk back. This forces brands to be real and genuine, and most brands are terrible at it.
eMarketer: When it comes to reaching millennials on social media, how do you strike the right balance between organic marketing and paid ad spots?
Rhoten: You have to be careful with what is organic and what is paid, because if it is very clear that you are advertising without being entertaining or telling your story in an honest way, you immediately get shut down.
Having said that though, there is no modern social platform that can provide scale without a paid model behind it. There is just so much noise out there. Every brand is publishing. Every person is publishing. Without dollars behind content, you’re never going to get enough reach.
eMarketer: Are you spending more on video campaigns targeting millennials this year than you have in the past? If so, why?
Rhoten: Yes, because that’s where the opportunity is. Facebook and Twitter, for example, have enabled autoplay video and have created video distribution methods that didn’t exist two or three years ago. The platforms are embracing video. We also see in our numbers that video is, without a doubt, the most effective medium when it’s done right.
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