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Persuasion Notebook offers quick hits on the business of persuasion from The Globe and Mail's marketing and advertising reporter, Susan Krashinsky. Read more on The Globe's marketing page and follow Susan on Twitter @Susinsky.
Wendy's baffling new Canadian advertising campaign perfectly illustrates the tin ear of marketers who attempt to speak to young women.
The fast food chain recently launched a series of short videos on the Internet to promote its new line of salads, under the title "Girlfriends at Wendy's Eating Salad & Talking About Stuff." Now six official episodes in, the Web series looks as though it were conceived by a cadre of comically out-of-touch executives, who have a vague notion that women a) enjoy managing their caloric intake and b) often watch videos on something called The YouTube.
The videos feature a pair of friends named Leigh and Angie who engage in inane conversation. The weighty matters they discuss include the fact that jet lag is unpleasant; the increased number of men who have beards; and the apparent difficulty in correctly pronouncing "edamame."
These scenes are interspersed with shots of cashews arranged artfully on a wooden counter, or cheese being grated in slow motion as muzak plays.
The friends "discuss topics from fashion and fitness to dating and relationships and, through it all, the salads remain a constant element and a vehicle for conversation," Wendy's explained in a press release last month to announce the launch of the campaign.
The videos are part of a larger campaign to promote the salads, and to increase Wendy's appeal to health-conscious consumers who might otherwise eschew fast food.
Wendy's also likely took note of the fact that other marketers have had success appealing to a younger demographic by expanding their advertising campaigns to include digital and social media components.
The videos, produced by the chain's ad agency MacLaren McCann, have a low-budget look. Despite the fact that we are led to believe these are a series of separate salad-eating occasions, the women never change their outfits. In a few scenes it is snowing outside, but they do not appear to have coats.
More importantly, the videos talk down to their audience – and not just by insinuating that girlfriends would have nothing substantive to discuss beyond bad dates and how eating blue cheese makes them more "European." They also miss the mark by not offering up any amusement in exchange for asking people to sit through an extended commercial.
Many women have had their fill of images of themselves as airheads who are obsessed with weight management and boys. Nobody expects the Wendy's girlfriends to discuss Proust, but their conversation should at least be funny or clever.
The company disabled comments on the YouTube videos themselves, but they have attracted some negative attention on the brand's Facebook page. Commenters there have described the videos as "boring," "horrible," and "2 min 1 sec of my life I will never get back."
The videos are intended to be "cinema vérité-style," humorous scenes that are relatable to the campaign's target audience of women aged 25 to 34, the company said in an emailed statement.
"We understand not everyone is going to be moved by these little slices of life, and of course they are not meant to be universal representations of the conversations all young women have all the time. But for many, they have an authentic ring," said Lisa Deletroz, director of marketing for Wendy's Restaurants of Canada.
The six videos posted so far have attracted more than 300,000 views on Facebook and YouTube, Ms. Deletroz said, adding that the company has received more good feedback than bad. The salads are selling well.
The intention of a campaign like this is clearly to "go viral." McDonald's Canada has scored millions of views with online videos answering questions about its food. And just a few months ago WestJet convinced more than 35-million people to watch an ad by filming a "WestJet Christmas Miracle," surprising guests with gifts from Santa.
Marketers who spend campaign dollars online are discovering that the content needs to be funny, surprising, or even addressing something controversial, if consumers are to be expected to willingly sit through it.
That's because advertising has fundamentally changed. Under the old model, people were forced to endure a company's message as part of the price of access to their favourite media – a TV show or a magazine for example. With the rise of digital media, consumers can choose to skip those messages. Marketers looking for viral success will need to change their tactics accordingly.