Should Brands Tag the Competition: A Case of Wendy's vs McDonald's: Guest Post by Katie Kresic

On February 2nd, 2020, Wendy’s Twitter profile released a post that directly tagged rival chain, McDonald's, in an initial tweet for the first time in the companies’ social media history. The fast-food chain, who is well known for being sassy on Twitter, launched this risky campaign strategy to introduce a new breakfast menu being released on March 2nd, 2020. Not only did they tag a competitor, but continued to quote-tweet their original post by commenting, “Yeah, we wouldn't wake up for your breakfast either. Don’t worry, on 3/2 there will be something worth waking up for. #WendysBreakfastWhat followed was even more intense: the posting of a Twitter thread featuring former McDonalds’ Corporate Chef, Mike Haracz, taste-testing Wendy’s new “Breakfast Baconator”.

While Wendy’s is known for its’ tongue-in-cheek references and witty responses on Twitter, public relations professionals are debating whether this risky choice to directly tag a competitor was worth their reputation. But Wendy’s has always trolled McDonald’s on Twitter, right? Sure, Wendy’s has never been an organization to let a chance for a humorous moment pass by. The difference is that this launch’s outright tweet tagged the competition directly and in a negative connotation right from the drafting board, which has never been seen before from the feisty brand.

So, why did Wendy’s public relations team make this strategic choice to start a food-fight on Twitter? According to a recent article from PR Week, “Jimmy Bennett, Wendy’s VP of media and social said that Wendy’s chose to challenge McDonald’s to a ‘breakfast’ battle on social media because the Golden Arches are "the poster child for a tired, stale breakfast and this is [Wendy’s] opportunity to make that comparison as visible and recognizable as possible." (Bradley, 2020). The team decided to directly compare the two companies’ breakfast items through visual advertisements, and what better way to compare than to get the inside scoop from the former McDonalds’ Corporate Chef himself. However, this bold tactic may be detrimental to maintaining their Twitter reign.

Let’s look at the last time a fast-food joint executed this style of social media campaign. Back in January, Burger King attempted to take on Wendy’s when the company posted an initial tweet image of its mascot in front of a Wendy’s location holding up a sign that said, "Roses are red, violets are blue, patties are round" — a reference to Wendy’s square patties. Wendy’s clearly has a prepared social media team, as not long after, the sassy chain retweeted the post with the comment, "Look who dropped by to see what Spicy Nuggets were supposed to taste like." While this instance of banter seems all in good fun, Burger King’s initial tweet only had 9% of likes compared to Wendy’s clap back post, suggesting that the initial banter was less successful than the response. With the response gaining 113,000 likes, Burger King’s strategic decision actually set their competition up for social media success. This pattern could prevail in Wendy’s new launch if McDonald’s decides to take action. This strategic decision provides the risk of handing an opportunity for a viral social media moment to a direct competitor. It also threatens Wendy’s image by being too direct or assertive, which provides a threat of the development of a negative image amongst their publics if played out too much.

Wendy’s has lucked-out so far, because McDonald’s has never once responded to any references made by the Wendy’s account in the past. As long as McDonalds continues to fail to create a comical reaction, this strategic choice made by Wendy’s social media managers may have been effective overall. Ultimately, by developing a viral moment, Wendy’s has succeeded in gaining attention for the product launch, yet the question still remains: Will McDonald’s decide to take part in this social media opportunity?

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