Posted on April 11, 2024 in Technology

Is Brand Twitter Over?

Popular fast-food restaurant chain Wendy’s has been getting a lot of attention online. It’s not a good thing: Wendy’s briefly attempted to announce “surge-pricing”, where prices would go up around mealtimes, and was promptly (and rightfully) bullied into retracting the idea. Wendy’s used to be a cornerstone of the hip, online, highly-Millennial marketing of the 2010s, so how could it make such a huge mistake?

You Can’t Win Marketing Bad Ideas

This should be obvious: people will tolerate your jokes at their expense only as long as they like you enough to overlook you crossing lines. Wendy’s forgot this. Sunny-D forgot this when it tweeted it’s now infamous “I can’t do this anymore” tweet. More severely, Elon Musk forgets this when he tried to convince advertisers to stay on the platform after a number of controversial statements regarding advertisers and free speech. Once that rep is lost, it’s almost impossible to recover. Metaphorically, even companies can say things that they can’t take back.

So what part of this pricing plan is a bad idea? Think about it from the investor standpoint, people who don’t actually eat a lot of fast food: every part of restaurant life is harder because people tend to come in waves, with giant lines out the door at lunch and dinner time and long periods of quiet in between them. Everything from stocking to training to staffing is beholden to this cycle. If companies could have a perfect world, they’d probably choose to have people come in at a steady pace throughout the entire day, rather than bunching up at lunch. So, discouraging people from showing up all at the same time with a time-sensitive fee makes sense! Right?

But, if you do regularly go to fast food restaurants for lunch, this is a terrible idea. It reeks of being out-of-touch: most people don’t have much flexibility around when they get their lunch break. Most people don’t choose when they get hungry, either. Some consumers will eat a late breakfast if they know they’ll be going to lunch late, sure, but is Wendy’s good enough to plan your entire day around like that, assuming you even can? What if it’s not? It doesn’t spread out the surge at all. If someone is already a devout Wendy’s fan, they’ll still go during their lunch break. If someone is not, they’ll go somewhere that doesn’t jack up the price during lunch, they won’t just wait for the price to go back down if they’re already hungry and there are other options next door.

All this also fails to consider the climate: right now is a mega-uncool time to pull tricks like this!

Who Is Wendy’s?

Everyone is feeling the impact of inflation. The tradeoff, the secret agreement when it came to fast food was always “sure, it’s not really good, but it’s cheap!” and when it’s not cheap, what is it? We’re experiencing a crisis of market share, where companies aren’t sure what their consumer is supposed to look like or act like any more. The rising prices of everything are forcing consumers out of their reliable habits as a matter of survival. Wendy’s targeted Millennials when it was funny on Twitter a decade ago, but when that market is not going out to eat because they’re trying to save money or pay down debt, Wendy’s seemingly has no idea what to do. So they did something that instantly cracked the fragile shell of relatability that they’d been cultivating, and made everything worse.

When Wendy’s threatened a price spike now that every big business is selling goods at overinflated prices, suddenly it wasn’t “cartoon mascot Wendy, who’s funny on Twitter” sending out news and slinging burgers, it was “corporate giant Wendy’s spokesperson, a man in a suit”, telling me that if I showed up at the wrong time, I’d be charged an extra fee for the inconvenience of daring to ask for a hamburger at lunchtime. To then try to joke with users on Twitter like Wendy’s is still a relatable, friendly restaurant after that is insulting. Other people on Twitter consistently refused to let them and instead mocked Wendy’s relentlessly no matter what it said in the tweet, until eventually Wendy’s was forced to backtrack on the idea altogether. Wendy’s Twitter will no longer be a viable source of marketing material until this dies down. Even then, potential customers are going to remember this. The internet never forgets.

Wendy’s was allowed to be funny and edgy on Twitter during the 2010’s because the burgers were what they said they were (not frozen, square, pretty decent for the price) and because they weren’t actually being all that offensive when they responded sassily to someone who said something goofy in their retweets. “Looks like you forgot refrigerators existed for a second” isn’t exactly a burn worthy of being signed to a label, not that this stopped Wendy’s from launching a rap track dissing Burger King. It’s not like that anymore – they have no diss capable of dispelling three hundred tweets all saying “at least Burger King doesn’t charge more at lunch”. The era where companies could just pull up a seat and act like other real users was already on the way out, but this might have killed it for good.