DES MOINES, Iowa – Goodbye, Mr. Wendy. The fast-food chain's management canned the man they referred to as the brand's "unofficial spokesperson" after dismal reviews of the advertising campaign that featured him.
"We believe a lousy family-focused advertising campaign featuring 'Mr. Wendy' misses the mark," said John Ivankoe of J.P. Morgan Securities Inc. in a report last month.
Peter Oakes of Piper Jaffray (search) criticized "Mr. Wendy" ads for "showcasing his character at the expense of highlighting the food (and) has made Wendy's a bit more vulnerable of late."
"While decisions are still being made about new creative, food has always been the hero at Wendy's, and we're going to make sure that comes through loud and clear," Wendy's marketing executive Don Calhoon said.
In seeking a credible spokesperson, Wendy's faces a difficult marketing dilemma: What to do when your longtime, likable pitchman — in this case it was company founder Dave Thomas (search) — dies?
Thomas passed away nearly three years ago, after appearing in commercials for about 13 years.
For a while, the company decided against a replacement. Instead, it concentrated on letting its food sell itself.
But this past February it introduced "Mr. Wendy." Played by TV character actor Roger Eschbacher (search), the character was supposed to be what Brand Week called "a well-meaning regular fellow whose passion for food makes him sometimes intrusive."
Commercials showed him in various places — a shopping mall's food court, a party, in a homeowner's yard — where he would question what various people were eating and tout a Wendy's alternative.
At the mall, for example, "Mr. Wendy" uses a bullhorn to criticize the salads some are eating, saying, "Salad's not supposed to be brown. Go to Wendy's." His "wife" apologizes to the startled onlookers.
Asked during a recent conference call by one analyst whether the company was rethinking its advertising in light of sales slippage, chief executive Jack Schuessler replied, "Any campaign you tend to tweak it from time to time ... and I suspect we'll tweak Mr. Wendy."
Talk about understatement.
Shares of Wendy's closed Friday at $34.99, down 42 cents, or 1.2 percent, on the New York Stock Exchange (search).