On April 5th, 2017, Carter Wilkerson tweeted at Wendy’s, the international fast-food restaurant chain, asking how many retweets would earn him a “year of free chicken nuggets.” Wendy’s blunty replied, “18 million.” After screenshotting this reply and calling on the rest of Twitter for help, Wilkerson gained a hundred thousand followers, appeared on the Ellen show, and became the recipient of the most retweets on a Twitter post, ever – all in a matter of weeks. Oh, and even though he didn’t reach the 18 million mark (falling short at 3.6 million), Wendy’s still decided to give Wilkerson a year of free chicken nuggets. Not a bad deal.
Cameron Wilkerson got his fifteen minutes of fame and a year’s worth of chicken nuggets, but who’s the real winner here?
The viral tweet gave Wendy’s free publicity for months. The hundreds of articles detailing the story don’t always mention Wilkerson’s name (opting for “teen” or “nugget kid”), but they always mention Wendy’s. Even now, over a year later, news outlets discuss the fast food chain’s latest tweets.
With the advancement of technology and social networking, digital media has become an increasingly powerful and essential tool for companies in all industries. Gone are the days where firms were limited to television commercials and print ads; with social media, companies can communicate directly with customers and obtain immediate responses. Now, not only is it crucial for firms to have social media accounts, it’s also imperative for them to stay active on these accounts. Companies, especially consumer-facing ones, must stay up to speed.
So far, Wendy’s has been able to keep up. For the past couple of years, Wendy’s has gained considerable fame for its “savage” tweets. When asked to “find the nearest McDonald’s,” Wendy’s replied with a picture of a trash can, gaining them thousands of likes and retweets. In a similar fashion, when a Twitter user asked Wendy’s what to tell a friend who wanted to go to McDonald’s, Wendy’s replied “Find new friends.”
Through its Twitter account, Wendy’s is able to devalue competitors such as McDonald through “roasts” as well as promote themselves by replying directly to users. In addition, its sassy comments have allowed it to establish itself as a company that understands current trends and pop culture. This new reputation gives rise to unique opportunities, ones like the #NuggsForCarter ordeal.
However, success on one platform does not always translate across others.
In 2015, Wendy’s debuted a commercial dubbed by Internet users as “The Memer” commercial. In it, a woman with red hair narrates the various reactions of different groups of customers, namely, the “Memer, the “Selfier,” and the “Behind the Timeser,” to their newest menu item, the Jalapeno Fresco Spicy Chicken Sandwich. The commercial painstakingly goes through each stereotype, first showing the “memer” posing for an uncomfortable amount of time with the sandwich, then showing two “selfiers” with the sandwich in one hand and a selfie stick in the other, and finally showing a group of “behind the timesers” with one man describing the sandwich as “da bomb.” Public response to this commercial was less than ideal; in fact, the outdatedness of the commercial was so “cringey” to people that the commercial itself became a meme. Although Wendy’s was trying to show its prowess in being able to identify modern cliches, the tackiness with which the commercial is executed, most notably through its “Eats Spicy Goodness Like A Boss” meme, shows how, ironically, Wendy’s was the one who was behind the times.
The enormous backfiring of Wendy’s television commercial goes to show how incredibly volatile and nuanced modern media can be. If a company rolls out a campaign without fully understanding Internet culture and current trends, the public will not hesitate to call them out. However, when utilized strategically, social media and popular culture can serve as powerful instruments for maintaining influence and relevance in a crowded industry.