Jon M. Huntsman School of Business

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Wendy's "Dave's Hot 'N Juicy" strikes out

I LOVE new products. Innovation is in my DNA, and I regularly look for new products to try. By the way, if you need to hang something on your wall, try the new HERCULES Hangers at Bed, Bath and Beyond. They are AMAZING.

But I digress. Back to the story. It was with great anticipation that I read earlier this week of Wendy’s introduction of the all-new hamburger “Dave’s Big N Juicy”, the first overhaul of Wendy’s traditional hamburger offering since 1969.

Eric D. Schulz
I have to give Wendy’s PR team credit. They got great press on Monday and Tuesday about the introduction. And the story they told, of embarking on a two-year quest, criss-crossing the country trying new hamburgers, going to small dives in the middle of America, to finally land on this new landmark burger – even using a pickle scientist -- intrigued me enough that I immediately called home and informed my wife that Monday night, we were going to Wendy’s to try out the new burger, which seemed from their press release to be manna from heaven…new crinkly pickles, a butter toasted bun, thicker meat, and more.

My disappointment set in as I pulled into the parking lot. Not a sign, not a window sticker, nothing at the location indicated that the new Dave’s burger was being served. But we went inside, and yes, there it was on the menu board, so I stepped right up and ordered away.

Alas, to my dismay, it arrived looking just like the old Wendy’s burger. Same foil wrapper, nothing to indicate it was anything new or different. And indeed, when I opened it up, it wasn’t. It looked like the same old Wendy’s burger, only what used to be white onions are now red onions, and the flat pickles are now crinkly. Had I not peeled open the burger, there was no outward sign that it was anything different. Taste-wise, size wise, it was exactly the same, only now it cost $3.79.

Will this burger be the savior of Wendy’s? Not a chance. In fact, it’s probably going to do more damage to the brand than good. They’ll get a nice short-term bump in sales from people like me who will buy into the PR hype and run down and try it, but when they end up disappointed by the product, they’ll likely not return. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and if their now $3.79 burger doesn’t meet expectations (which it does not), consumers won’t come back. We’ve seen this movie before….Crystal Pepsi, New Coke…and others.

This reinforces the marketing paradigm I call The Gravitational Law of Marketing. The ONLY way to disrupt marketplace equilibrium is to introduce a new, better product that is SIGNIFICANTLY different than what already exists. Marginal improvements are a waste of time. Go big, or go home. Wendy’s. Go home. You just struck out.

- Eric D. Schulz

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