The popular fast food restaurant Wendy’s has undergone a transition over the last few years. Specifically, Wendy’s has gone from the hokey place where people bought square hamburgers from Dave Thomas and his red-headed daughter to the place where people can buy a host of foods, some of them fresh and healthy. At least that is the sense that one would get when one takes a hard look at the advertisements of the company. In the efforts for Wendy’s to advertise the company’s healthier products, one gets a clear sense of the new direction that the public is asking companies to take. The public is more and more concerned with healthier options, and they are scrutinizing companies more on this issue. The psychology and ethics of advertising come into play in this discussion, as Wendy’s and companies like it have had to make hard choices that balance the need for profitability along with the need to be fair and honest.
The ethical standards for advertising are fluid. Especially for things like fast food, there is not a body that determines who gets to run what, and what that means. It is difficult for law firms, of course. The bar association tells lawyers what they can and cannot say. No such body exists for a company like Wendy’s, which answers only to public scrutiny. The company only has to be as honest as the public will hold them to. There are some legal doctrines in play, of course. False advertising laws can play a role in mediating the message of a fast food restaurant. However, false advertising from a civil standpoint is a moving doctrine, and companies can often find their way around these doctrines. This leaves the ethical policing up to the public.
Advertising has affected American culture, and American culture has had an impact on advertising. It is a reciprocal relationship, especially in the age of the Internet. It must be stated that advertising has helped to shape the way Americans have eaten. Food companies like Wendy’s have been among the many that has used psychology to influence consumers in their choices. For instance, Wendy’s and their choices on color scheme have been incredibly important in pushing people to choose food. It has been reported in some studies that the use of red and yellow makes people hungrier and more aggressive. It is no surprise, then, that Wendy’s and other fast food restaurants have chosen this color scheme (Schlosser, 2012). The flip side is true, too. Wendy’s has been influenced by American culture. As American culture has become more aware of the realities of good and bad food, companies have been asked in some ways to understand this. A company in 2016 advertising terrible food might not expect immediate push-back, but the advertising trends have moved more toward companies that want to show a healthier side. Even while showing the delicious cheeseburgers, Wendy’s has been forced to highlight some of its other offerings in order to spare its reputation in the changing world.
Advertisers use more specific strategies to appeal to consumers on the basis of emotion, logic, and credibility. Wendy’s has been able to appeal to logic in some of its more recent ads. It has shown consumers that eating healthier food can help to aid in one’s fitness. Wendy’s, then, positions its products as something that can fill many needs for a consumer. The food is cheap, it is fast, and it will help the person maintain their waistline. This is a logical appeal and progression if there is one.
Wendy’s and companies like it have had to deal with the ethics of children and advertising. Just as cigarette companies brought on pain back when they used a pretty camel to try and sell cigarettes to children, companies in the fast food industry have been asked to consider specifically how their food might impact the health of children (Powell, 2013). One of the primary reasons why McDonald’s has introduced advertising about its alternatives to fries in happy meals was because parents complained that the company and its advertising made it more difficult for parents to provide their children with healthy food options.
In one of the Wendy’s commercials that appears in both Spanish and English, the company shows a range of its food. While it shows kids enjoying small sizes of chicken nuggets, it also has a scene of three young women and a young boy sitting at a table. In front of one of the women is a nice, green salad. The commercial is designed to highlight the fact that Wendy’s has meals that are the right size, the right price, and ideal for everyone. This is a commercial that appeals to the logic of consumers. It does not explicitly mention the healthy food, but one gets the idea that one can eat at Wendy’s while still being healthy. Rather than being overweight, the people in the ad are skinny and attractive, too. The messaging there is that Wendy’s is an option for the burger lover and salad lover, alike. It shows the new, cleaner side of Wendy’s, even as it shows the old, greasy hamburgers, as well.
At the end of the day, commercials and advertising are very much dependent upon movements in culture. Companies are constantly monitoring the waters to see what their brand looks like in comparison with what the public is after. Wendy’s has done this and mediated its brand a bit over time, staying in line with some of the moves from its contemporaries in this industry.