Fast food chain Wendy’s is facing major backlash and calls for a boycott on social media at the moment, due to their refusal to join the Fair Food Program, that offers human rights and protection from abuse for farm workers in the fast food supply chain.
As the calls for Wendy’s to join the program grow, and marches are organized around the U.S. to add extra pressure, Wendy’s seems to be digging in instead of acknowledging the increasingly bad press.
In this week’s episode of Marketing on Tap, we look at Wendy’s reaction, and ask if “the marketing of boycotting” is now a thing that brands use to both diversify their customers and identify the ones that will buy their product regardless.
Settle back and enjoy this week’s topic, brought to you in the usual unscripted manner that you’ve come to expect when Sam and Danny take the mic.
If you prefer to listen on the go, the audio version of this week’s episode can be listened to below.
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This week’s beer is the Town & Country Ale from GoodLot Farmstead Brewing Co.
Sam Fiorella: So today we’re going to be talking about a couple of things. The first is Marvel versus DC Comics, which is now the new Apple versus PC. There always seems to be a new debate, the people picking sides. And it’s affecting millions in revenue, in the entertainment space anyway. But it’s also creating a path of destruction for brands who don’t get out of the way or those who purposely get in the way. So we’re going to talk a little bit about that and how that’s affecting the rest of the marketing world.
Sam Fiorella: But that’ll lead to the marketing of boycotts, which will be the second thing. Again, it’s that black versus white, us versus them, dichotomy of modern communication.
Intro: Welcome to Marketing on Tap, a weekly podcast in which marketing pros and authors, Sam Fiorella and Danny Brown, serve up the latest marketing hot topics, campaigns and trends. All washed down with a great craft beer. Join in for the fun as they debate the pros and cons of the topic of the week, while featuring popular or up-and-coming micro-breweries. Topics include influence marketing, brand campaign successes and misses, Customer Advocacy Programs and marketing challenges facing businesses and agencies.
Intro: It’s the marketing podcast to listen to for CMOs, Senior Sales Executives and key decision-makers, at mid to enterprise-level organizations. And, with they’re good-natured bashing each other, each episode promises to entertain and educate in equal measure. Welcome to Marketing on Tap.
Sam Fiorella: All right, welcome back everybody to another episode of Marketing on Tap. My name is Sam Fiorella. This is my mate Danny Brown. Today, Danny, we’re wading into the world of boycotts. Again, that just seems to be a common theme lately, but … So today we’re going to be talking about a couple of things. The first is Marvel versus DC Comics, which is now the new Apple versus PC. There always seems to be a new debate of people picking sides and it’s affecting millions in revenue, in the entertainment space anyway, but it’s also creating a path of destruction for brands who don’t get out of the way or those who purposely get in the way. So we’re going to talk a little bit about that and how that’s affecting the rest of the marketing world.
Sam Fiorella: But that’ll lead to the marketing of boycotts, which will be the second thing. Again, it’s this black versus white, us versus them, dichotomy of modern communication. And it’s creating calls for boycotts almost daily. Oreos, Chick-fil-A. Remember Nike? Gillette … very recently we talked about that on an earlier podcast … and now Wendy’s is back. Even here in Canada, Tim Horton’s has a call for a consumer boycott almost weekly.
Sam Fiorella: And Wendy’s problems, which is really the third point that I wanted to delve into today, is based on new renewed boycott, which is due to the fact that they refuse to join fast-food companies in ensuring humane wages and working conditions for laborers who picked fruits and vegetables on certain farms. And so there’s been a lot of backlash on social media and the celebrities are getting into it now, and that’s really just causing a big furor over there.
Sam Fiorella: So I want to talk about this marketing of boycotts. And where are we going with that. So that’s what’s on tap today. But literally on tap … well I guess not literally on tap … figuratively on top-
Danny Brown: Roughly from on tap time-
Sam Fiorella: We have a beer here.
Danny Brown: [crosstalk 00:03:19] from a couple of weeks back. I’ll just hand this over to our Producer Anna.
Sam Fiorella: So we’ve got the … this is another-
Danny Brown: It’s another good lot.
Sam Fiorella: … good lot.
Danny Brown: Yeah. This one’s a slightly different one. This is their … So the last time we had Farmstead Ale. And this is their Town Country Ale. So what they’ve done, it’s brewed off-site in Toronto, and they’ve based it on the flagship, you know, Farmstead Ale-
Sam Fiorella: Farmstead Ale.
Danny Brown: … but they’ve actually fermented it with an alternative yeast stream, slightly different hops. So the only thing that this beer has in common with the Farmstead Ale, is the hops. So it’s still the same, 6.2% ABV, 38 IBU.
Sam Fiorella: 6.2 friends, 6.2%.
Danny Brown: All right, so let’s try it. You got the Anna Cam?
Sam Fiorella: Oh yeah. Wait, let me get the Anna Cam ready.
Danny Brown: Okay.
Sam Fiorella: Anna did not like last week’s brew.
Danny Brown: Different yeast this time so you may like it Anna.
Sam Fiorella: So we’re going to hopefully have one right for her. All right. There we go. Cheers.
Danny Brown: Cheers.
Sam Fiorella: Cheers everybody.
Speaker 4: Cheers guys.
Anna: Yeah, I like the smell of that.
Sam Fiorella: Ooh, I like this one. Mind you, I liked last week’s too.
Danny Brown: That’s really nice.
Sam Fiorella: Now this is Anna approved? Oh, okay. We have-
Danny Brown: Victory for good lot.
Sam Fiorella: Yeah, there you go. Good lot, Anna approved.
Danny Brown: That yeast makes all the difference.
Sam Fiorella: Doesn’t it?
Danny Brown: It almost takes it to like a Pilsner in a way.
Sam Fiorella: It is much lighter than the last … it feels it. Anyway, I like it. Okay.
Danny Brown: Good job.
Sam Fiorella: Mind you, again, have you guys really ever seen me not like a beer on this episode? I don’t know. Okay. So Danny. Let’s discuss. Let’s start with Wendy’s. So by way of introduction, for the people that don’t know, Gail Simone, this is how this whole thing started. Gail Simone, who was a famous female comic book writer, posted a funny Tweet suggesting that fast-food chains or the name of fast-food chains, would make great super-villain names.
Sam Fiorella: So she posted, “Face the fury of the Burger King.” You know what I mean?
Danny Brown: I like that.
Sam Fiorella: That’s actually a good one, isn’t it? “Beware the bombast of El Pollo Loco,” or “Dread the danger of IHOP.” “Shudder at the sound of The Sizzler.” So I mean, it was really cool. It was a clever Tweet. Clearly she’s a comic book writer and a good one at that. So she decided to reach out to different brands and saying, you know, ask their thought if they’re a DC or a Marvel. For those of you that are not in the comic book world, like Danny and I are, DC and Marvel are two different publishers, each publishing different, I guess, stories and heroes. So for example, DC Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Batman. Those names you’ll all be familiar with. Whereas on the DC side-
Danny Brown: On the Marvel side.
Sam Fiorella: Sorry, on the Marvel side … I don’t pay attention, so who are some of the big Marvel characters?
Danny Brown: So on Marvel obviously you get the Spiderman, you know.
Sam Fiorella: Spiderman, and-
Danny Brown: And you’ve got the Avengers-
Sam Fiorella: Avengers. Captain America-
Danny Brown: Captain America, all these guys.
Sam Fiorella: Exactly. So anyway, it’s become a real thing now. Maybe because of the movies that are just bringing up this conversation again. But you’re either a big DC fan or you’re a big Marvel fan. And by the way, I’m a big DC fan. Danny doesn’t really understand comics, so he’s a Marvel fan, and you all remember when it was like, “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC”?
Danny Brown: Yeah.
Sam Fiorella: And if you loved Macs, you hated PCs. Even if you considered them a good product or good machine, you didn’t even care. You know, you were a Mac and so you have to hate them. And vice versa. Again, PC, Mac. I’m right, he’s wrong.
Sam Fiorella: And it goes to the core of where we are today, I think, in just society. It’s really getting … Social media has taken those traditional, “Well, I like this, you like that” and just exaggerated them to such a degree, that it’s almost impossible for us to have a conversation that isn’t us versus them or taking extreme sides on an issue. But worse, it’s getting to the point where marketers now are either taking advantage of it or getting burned by it, when they try and take advantage of it, ’cause they don’t know what to do. And that’s the case here.
Sam Fiorella: So getting back to what this woman did, is a lot of these brands like SunnyDs, Little Debbie’s, Hooters, they got into the mix. So she asked them, you know, “Which are you? Are you Marvel or are you DC?”
Sam Fiorella: Some of them came up with some really good lines. So my vote was … SunnyD responded, “My vote goes to Ryan Reynolds as he connects all universes, space and time,” which is a reference to the fact that he was actually in two movies. A DC movie and a Marvel movie, so they were politically correct, not picking sides. Others, like Little Debbie, responded back and said, “Are you referring to the movies? We enjoy Marvel’s ambition, but we also appreciate DC Universe’s willingness to allow each hero’s story to be told in unique ways. So both.” So there was some, you know, some sitting on the fence. “I’m not going to piss anybody off.” Clearly they know that this is a hot debate right now, and if they take a side, there’s going to be some backlash.
Danny Brown: Especially with comic book fans.
Sam Fiorella: Especially with comic book fans. Right? So you know, others were a little bit not so political, or less politically correct. So Wimpy’s in the UK says, “Well, we stand with any great British heroes. It doesn’t matter where they’re from.” Right? But then Wendy’s came in and Wendy’s basically said, “Marvel. Period.” You know what I mean? Like there, there is no attempt to say, “We understand the lexicon, we understand the culture,” which is what everybody else tried to do. We’re going to talk about that later.
Sam Fiorella: And so when they were called out for basically … Somebody said, “Nah, just jumping on the known popular bandwagon because they just said Marvel. Clearly they didn’t do any research. Clearly they didn’t understand the market.” And so they responded, “You want to do this? We got time. Sega is on hiatus.” So they tried to basically use some of the, I guess, the popular cultural references.
Danny Brown: And Wendy’s are known for burning their followers, right?
Sam Fiorella: Right, exactly. And it just didn’t work out this time because now there’s all these calls for boycotting Wendy’s and calls for … More than that, this is just, “You don’t understand us.” So they’ve created an environment for themselves now where they’ve alienated a very large portion of the population. But is that necessarily a bad thing?
Danny Brown: I don’t think it is if you know the audience that you’re going after is not the fans of DC, for example, to use this a case. So if you … I mean, whether you know your audience are fans of DC or not, it goes back to knowing your audience. We spoke about this before and who you want to attract, who you want to be aligned with and who you want to be aligned with your business. So think Wendy’s has been known to take stance consistently. I mentioned they like to burn people. They like to troll people.
Danny Brown: So I think to a degree, Wendy’s says, “Okay, we are Marvel through-and-through. We’re proud of that. We don’t care what people think.”
Sam Fiorella: Even though they probably weren’t … They were most likely jumping on the bandwagon because Marvel’s had such great success in the cinemas.
Danny Brown: It’s possible because Wendy’s did come with a followup Tweet that came out with a whole bunch of reason and why they liked Marvel. Although to be fair, if you look at that Tweet, it mentions the big recent Marvel as opposed to really going back into the Marvel Universe from, say, Spiderman Issue One, stuff like that. It could be just a Social Media Manager doing a quick Google search in between that Tweet.
Sam Fiorella: That’s exactly what happened. That’s exactly what happened. When he saw the backlash that was coming. I’m surprised they didn’t look at the others … Did the other guys who did weigh in with a more politically correct response or a more informed response, is that the right way to go? Was that at a smarter strategy then what Wendy’s decided to do?
Danny Brown: I think for this audience it was, because it’s geeks, right? And I’m a geek, so we say this with love, it’s geeks. You know, and geeks know their stuff.
Sam Fiorella: Geeks who drink beer. We should [inaudible 00:11:25] the next podcast.
Danny Brown: Geeks who drink beer. Exactly. But geeks know their stuff. That’s why Star Wars, Star Trek divide down the middle. You know your audience.
Sam Fiorella: Exactly. And that’s another thing. You’re a big Star Wars guy. I’m a big Star Trek Fan. I’m not a big Star Wars fan at all. I don’t get it. It’s the same movie a hundred times over. But that’s a separate issue.
Danny Brown: Yeah. So I do think in this case you don’t take a risk. You see what the sort of feedback is and their responses from the audience and then you can sort of address with followup Tweets or whatever. Have some fun with that.
Sam Fiorella: Well that’s what I thought. And you know what, this really leads me to … Well, let’s talk about two things. Before we wrap this up, what advice would we give a marketer? So if Wendy’s was our client and we were managing their social media or, you know, their Community Manager was, and came to us and said, “What do I do with this?” What advice would we give them?
Danny Brown: Remain neutral.
Sam Fiorella: Remain neutral?
Danny Brown: Remain neutral, and then determine, based on the feedback you’re getting, “Can I take this to another level and actually take a side?” You know?
Sam Fiorella: Oh, you’re such a diplomat.
Danny Brown: It’s because I’m Scottish, Canadian. Scottish, go back to Canadian.
Sam Fiorella: Yeah, maybe. This will be an argument in our office. I think, in terms of what we would do in this case, because I honestly believe that today you … and this is sort of the segue into the next point … which is, I believe you need to take a stance. I believe that you need to determine who your audience is today, understanding that you’re going to be alienating some people, but that’s okay, they’re not your audience. Understand who your audience is. Know what their cultural references are. Understand what’s important to them, and then align your brand to that. But do it expertly. Don’t do it half-assed. Like you have to do the research, right? So in that case, maybe take a poll of the employees, right?
Sam Fiorella: That might be a way. “Well we did a poll of our employees and this is what they came up with.”
Danny Brown: “And they are 60% DC, 40% Marvel.”
Sam Fiorella: And it’s whatever it is. So like, you know, or maybe hire somebody like us. … nudge, nudge, wink wink … that understands that particular marketplace, that understands the geek fan world. Or just maybe completely ignore it. I don’t recommend that one, but that’s another option.
Sam Fiorella: But this gets into, Danny, the marketing of boycotts, which is the second point that we want to talk about. Businesses, I think, today … or maybe this is a question. Are businesses courting boycotts? I wrote a blog post, I don’t know, when the whole Oreo thing … when they did that Rainbow Colored Oreo … and there was like all those crazy boycotts around that in Chick-fil-A. I did a blog post a couple of years ago that talked about the marketing of boycotts and that brands are purposely going after because it’s a great way to get some attention.
Sam Fiorella: Remember the old saying, “All publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name right.” So I’m thinking this is important, this is coming back. So is it important? Are they? What do you think? Are brands purposely going after this, “I want to be boycotted,” or “I want to be on the other side of it.”
Danny Brown: I think some are. You mentioned Chick-fil-A, you mentioned Oreo, and you’ll get some of the boycotts of the big guys that have happened over the last few years and the support they get. Yes, they get a whole bunch of people who say, “I’m going to burn my shoes. I’m going to never eat at Chick-fil-A again or whatever. But then you get a whole bunch of people eating in Chick-fil-A. You get a whole bunch of people going out and buying Nike shoes.
Danny Brown: The last one that just happened-
Sam Fiorella: Gillette.
Danny Brown: Gillette, You get a whole bunch of people buying Gillette that maybe have bought someone else’s razors before. So I think marketers and the Execs at these companies are looking and saying, “You know what? This is a way to get rid of the people that aren’t going to buy our products in five years’ time and bring on the people now they’re going to buy products for the next 20 or 30 years.”
Sam Fiorella: Yeah, I think sophisticated marketers right now are understanding that this is our world. We may not agree with it. We may not like how black and white, left versus right, white versus black, how divided we are as a society. DC versus Marvel, Star Wars versus Star Trek. But that is where we are and for the foreseeable future, this is where we’re going to be.
Sam Fiorella: So you know, you make a really good point when it comes to Gillette. Gillette knew. They’re not stupid, the marketers over there. They knew that this was going to have a big effect. And when you take a look at some of the imagery and some of the personalities that they used inside that video, they knew that it was going to drive this. And they did that and I think Nike was the same thing. They knew when they took Colin Kaepernick, you know what I mean? And they were going to create an ad and now they they’re doubling down on it. They just created a jersey of Kaepernick because he’s not playing. So they actually created an icons Jersey with Kaepernick on it-
Danny Brown: Nice.
Sam Fiorella: … and that just sold out within days. So they knew that that was going to create a controversy and it was going to get people riled up and it’s going to get a lot of people burning their stuff, but as they proved, their sales actually went up, after the initial decrease because the market’s got nervous. When everybody saw the sales, their stock price went up again. Right?
Sam Fiorella: So I do believe that that’s the case. And why that’s important, if you remember when we talked about this with Gillette, the Enzo agency did a study that we referenced of 150 brands for relevancy among millennials and Boomers. And when they looked at the most popular brands or the brands that they most likely would buy from or they recognized, Boomers picked companies like Proctor and Gamble, Chevrolet, the American Automobile Association. Whereas millennials, which, right now, hold, I think, the biggest buying power in America, Starbucks, Spotify and Twitter. And brands like Proctor and Gamble and Chevrolet were way down at the bottom of the list.
Sam Fiorella: And it’s because Starbucks and Spotify and those types of companies have purposely aligned themselves with the beliefs, the culture, the nomenclature, the vernacular of that audience, right? It’s their practices like, you know, Starbucks Water. You know what I mean? And Free Trade coffees and things like that. That’s what’s aligned culturally with millennials. And so they’re going to spend more of their money there. They’re looking at the longterm strategy, just like Gillette did.
Sam Fiorella: It wasn’t that long ago, we had a podcast where we talked about Instagram-able packaging. Remember the ice cream upstarts? The micro-ice creams that says, you know, their packages are being designed to be Instagram-able. And Instagram-able restaurants. They have certain tables with certain lighting specifically for Instagram shots. So they understand that this is it.
Sam Fiorella: So, I’m thinking that that’s going to be the way to go. But if we take a look at Wendy’s, what’s this whole furor right now about the boycott? There is like the whole Marvel/DC thing. But that’s not really the basis for the boycott.
Danny Brown: No. So I mean, Wendy’s are getting boycotted. There’s a huge … and this had been going on for a few years now, but it’s really come to the fore this year because universities and millennials and students have got involved. Wendy’s is one of the only large fast-food companies that aren’t part of the Fair Food Program. Which, as you mentioned earlier, ensures a living wage, humane working conditions and better conditions all round for the farmers that supply. The supply providers for Wendy’s. Burger King’s involved, McDonald’s involved, et cetera. Wendy’s is not.
Danny Brown: So now, you’ve got all these universities … and there’s like a march next month with four key universities … that are going to be marching with the students to protest. “Until you actually joined the Fair Food Program, your burgers will not be sold on our campuses, and we’ll boycott your restaurants near our campuses.”
Sam Fiorella: And I think part of this is the fact that there was an LA Times article, if I read correctly, there was an LA Times article a couple of years ago that documented some of the, not only child labor issues, but sexual harassment and abuse of women on Mexican farms where these tomatoes and other produce was being grown. And I think what’s happening now is maybe there’s a convergence of facts. Number one, yes, millennials, university students, that next generation below them, have glommed onto this.
Sam Fiorella: And we understand that with them in particular, if your corporate practices don’t align with their cultural beliefs as we’ve been talking, there’s a big problem. And they have the power of social media to affect it. But also they’re tacking on to the #MeToo movement. And this is where, I guess Wendy’s made yet another mistake. Instead of saying, “Okay, this is something that’s important to our audience, we need to understand that the biggest cohort stands behind this. We need to get behind it.” What they did is they basically reacted negatively. Somebody in the marketing team, I forget where they published this, but basically said, “You guys are using the #MeToo movement and the Time’s Up movement to support your business strategy or your campaign. You’re co-opting somebody else’s thing and that’s just terrible.”
Danny Brown: Wow.
Sam Fiorella: Well, of course that was like completely insensitive.
Danny Brown: It’s tinder to a fuse, right? For this whole thing.
Sam Fiorella: Yeah, exactly. And so what happened, Alyssa Milano, who is like a big celebrity and a huge proponent of the #MeToo movement, she tweeted out something in response and said, “Hey, @Wendy’s, if you really want to get on the wrong side of the Time’s Up movement and the #MeToo movement, keep using our name to attack and belittle farm worker women who are fighting to keep themselves and their sisters safe from rape in the fields.” And then she wrote a couple … it was like a 500-word post that she posted.
Sam Fiorella: And then of course other celebrities got behind it and now there’s this massive boycott that’s being planned. So they really just don’t understand that cultural relevance, of the movement and how that’s impacting how people buy. And ultimately as a marketer, that’s what we need to be worried about. What influences people to buy a product one way or the other one?
Danny Brown: Exactly. And what’s ironic about Wendy’s is their founder, I think it’s Dave Thomas, 40 years ago put together the four core mantras of Wendy’s. One of them, “Do the right thing.” And you look at what’s happening now, Wendy’s reaction to this, was to pull their production suppliers from Mexico and over to the US and Canada. But still seemingly the practices, the bad practices, are still happening at the greenhouses that they moved it to. So they never really addressed the issue.
Sam Fiorella: I think you know what, this is maybe old-school marketing because as an old-school marketer … I know I look like I’m 25 but I’m not actually 25 … I remember that you could basically cover up almost any kind of bad publicity by throwing up good publicity.
Sam Fiorella: And I mean I know with this when Wendy’s keeps tweeting out things like, “100% fresh. Never frozen.” So they just keep putting out these messages that they think that people are going to just read and forget about what they were complaining about in the past. That doesn’t work today anymore. Social media puts your brand, the value of your brand, what your brand represents in the hands of the consumer. Your brand is really what people say it is, not what you say it is anymore. Or their experiences with it and how they regurgitate it back out through social media, which then picks up steam and momentum, and then the news picks it up and then we pick it up, because now there’s podcasters, there’s blogs. There’s so many. We’re all content producers today, and so you don’t have control of that brand.
Sam Fiorella: So you need to understand what … talk about influence marketing. It’s not about, you know, “Am I going to get Kylie Jenner to tweet about my product?” It’s “What is the psyche of our audience? And it might only be 50% of the world, but if that’s the world we’re going after, we need to understand that and we need to align our messaging with them. And figure that out.”
Sam Fiorella: So anyway, so those are challenges for you today. We got our last call. So let’s call Danny. What’s our takeaway that we want to leave everybody with? What’s the one thing that sticks out in your mind?
Danny Brown: I think one of the things you just closed with there actually, is understanding today’s psyche, right, and how to address that. And if think back when social media, first came out and businesses were trying to get their heads around how do they address social media, A as customer care platform and there was a marketing platform, et cetera.
Danny Brown: And it took a while, but they kind of understood that and marketers knew social media marketing. I think it’s now you’ve got to look at the corporate responsibility and the social activism behind these platforms and behind the customers. And now do the research. “Okay, back in the day we researched how to do social media. Now we need to research how to do social responsibility with our marketing.”
Sam Fiorella: Right. Yeah, I agree. And there is a big shift that a lot of brands just don’t want to get to. And for me, I think one of the things that maybe I haven’t said yet in this conversation is Wendy’s, as you mentioned, is known for being snarky and taking down even their fans a notch or two. And that was lovable for a while. But that can go too far if you don’t do it right.
Danny Brown: Right.
Sam Fiorella: And so now it’s actually gone the other way because it’s not just being snarky necessarily, but it’s also, as I said, they’ve gone to the point where they’ve misaligned themselves with that cultural and attitudes of their audience. So anyway, so that’s for me. If you’re going to be risky, if you’re going to try, do it, but do it with a plan and make sure that you’ve got solid strategic digital marketers behind you, so that you don’t make these missteps if you’re going to try and push it. So get the support that you need.
Sam Fiorella: So anyway, that’s it for today. I hope this inspired some conversations out there. Leave us some comments. We’d love to hear from you what your thoughts are on this topic, and definitely follow us.
Danny Brown: Yeah, I’ll do my usual puppet thing. Subscribe on YouTube, look for the notification bell. Drop a little comment below and please, you know, whatever platform you prefer for podcasting, subscribe and share with your friends and we’ll see you there.
Sam Fiorella: Yeah, and if you are definitely a smart comic book fan and you’re a DC guy, let us know that you’re a DC fan more than a Marvel fan. Cheers everybody.
Danny Brown: Cheers.
Outro: You’ve been listening to Marketing on Tap with Sam Fiorella and Danny Brown. If you enjoyed this episode, make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next one. And please feel free to leave a show review. That’s always worth a cheers.