Why Is Wendy's Singing Pretzel Love Songs?

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In an age of ever-shrinking consumer attention spans, how complicated can your message be before you end up confusing your potential customers?

The recently launched pretzel bun campaign (a.k.a #pretzellovesongs) is a good case study in just how complicated marketing goals and tactics get. The fast-food chain decided to re-launch a popular menu item, namely, a very salty sandwich bun. The company is banking on what’s described as “80s and early 90s nostalgia” to strum the heartstrings of the same 50 million customers who gobbled up its pretzel sandwiches back in 2013.

So how do they plan to do that? Well, it’s complicated.

Cross Media Marketing

The chain’s plan starts with a series of television ads and special live appearances, including Boyz II Men and Jon Secada singing songs with lyrics that celebrate the return of the pretzel bun. Boyz II Men are scheduled for an appearance in New York, while Secada will appear in a national Hispanic TV ad and a video singing in both Spanish and English.

Edit! The Boyz II Men video was released, and it's a beauty:

In addition, Wendy’s own “Red” appears in an ad passionately lip-syncing lyrics about the pretzel bun to the tune of Mr. Big’s “To Be With You.”

Meanwhile, a digital campaign is rolling out featuring music videos of #pretzellovesongs with lyrics based on social media posts by consumers about the much-loved sandwich bun.

Wendy’s will also host karaoke booths in select markets in an effort to inspire more customer-odes to pretzel burgers and the popular pretzel chicken sandwich and pretzel bacon cheeseburger.

Multiple, unrelated spokes-singers with an 80s vibe and a partial social media tie-in. Is this an example of coherent, targeted marketing? Or a confusing attempt at humor and homage?

Re-Launching a Limited-Time Product

Despite its success, or maybe because of it, the pretzel bun has always been a limited-time product. Chief Marketing Officer Craig Bahner explained “we want to make sure we keep things special,” and that while there’s no plan at the moment for the pretzel bun to become a permanent part of the Wendy’s menu, “time will tell, and how customers react will be important.”

Nostalgia can certainly fuel a successful marketing campaign. But with so many fry cooks in the proverbial kitchen (including not one but two major ad agencies, Publicis Kaplan Thaler and VML), is all of the above really necessary if a company already has a product people love?

In the words of another classic 80s song, “Only time will tell.”

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