Wendy's Hot 'n Juicy Dave Cheeseburger

Kennon-Green & Co. Fiduciary Financial Advisor, Wealth Management, Global Value Investing

Wendy’s recent commercial introducing the remade cheeseburger named after founder Dave Thomas is one of the best examples of marketing and psychology I’ve ever seen.  It’s brilliant; mental models applied in a constructive way.  

I’m not going to take the fun out of it, but be on the lookout for some of the clues as to which mental models are at work: By invoking the imprimatur of the founder through his daughter and namesake – yes, the real Wendy of Wendy’s – it immediately lends credence to the company’s departure from the past.  The whole “My father named the restaurant after me, now it’s my turn to honor him by renaming our cheeseburger Dave’s Hot ‘n Juicy” while showing a clip of Dave using those words triggers reciprocity, the parental-child bond, nostalgia, and so much more.  It’s just brilliant.  Absolutely brilliant.  Have fun and study this.

This is what mental models can do for you.  Watch the commercial.  They were created by The Kaplan Thaler Group.  I think they earned their fee.

Some Notes on Dave Thomas and Wendy’s

[mainbodyad]In my “hall of paragons” that I developed years ago, where I profiled, studied, and learnt everything I could about certain people, including the lessons I wanted to take from them and the things I wanted to avoid from their lives, Dave Thomas was among my favorites.  A high school drop-out (who subsequently got his GED after building his empire), Thomas worked for the legendary Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) fame, despite disliking chicken.  He went on to open his first Wendy’s restaurant and over the remainder of his career, built a multi-billion dollar company and a personal fortune worth more than $100+ million at the time of his death.  

I remember getting word of his death on January 8th, 2002, nearly ten years ago.  It was around this time I read his autobiography, Dave’s Way, which I enjoyed.  I was visiting my parents on winter break.  My mom saw the news on the Internet and told me that he had passed away.  I went to a nearby Wendy’s and had a late lunch to honor him, but the person in the drive-through window didn’t even know who Dave Thomas was.  (Let that be a lesson to those of you who mistakenly believe that building something and growing rich will make mankind appreciate you.  You do work because it is right and good, even if no one recognizes it.  This same drive-through employee had a job because of the work of Dave Thomas, yet didn’t even know it.)

Dave's Hot 'n Juicy Burgers from Wendy'sI’m encouraged by the change, though I haven’t yet had one of the new Dave’s Hot ‘n Juicy cheeseburgers (I plan on trying them later today).  It’s meant to help combat the difficult sales and profit conditions Wendy’s has faced, especially relative to McDonald’s, over the past few years.  Following the introduction of sea salt fries, the Wendy’s classic cheeseburger is getting thrown out the window and replaced with Dave’s Hot ‘n Juicy Cheeseburgers.  

My only criticism is that if you click on the picture of the new burger on the company’s website, it doesn’t take you to a page that explains the product or what makes it different / better than the old version.  Instead, it takes you to a page talking about Dave Thomas.  Seriously?  Someone really dropped the ball on that one.

Wendy Thomas and Her Siblings Own Wendy’s Restaurants

One of the things I like about the Wendy’s story is that Dave’s daughter, Melinda Lou “Wendy” Morse (again, the namesake of the restaurant and the woman in the above video) and her siblings bought Wendy’s restaurants in and around Columbus, Ohio.  

Reportedly, the Thomas children (now in their 50’s and 60’s) own more than 30 of the restaurants, meaning they still have a big part of their economic wagon hitched to the business their father built.  But here’s the funny thing.  A few years ago, when I was visiting friends in Columbus and then they took me to the Wendy’s headquarters building, I remember being completely in awe of how much better run, cleaner, and more efficient the Wendy’s restaurants in the area were.  When I found out who owned many of the establishments that impressed me so much, it made perfect sense.  The Thomas family just runs hamburger joints better than other people.  All of their franchisees should have that kind of passion.