Of all the major brands, Wendy’s has arguably created the most distinctive voice across its social media and other digital interactive channels. Known for a razor-sharp wit tinged with a bit of snark, “Wendy” has become a character in her own right.
“Referring to Wendy as ‘her’—that’s our goal. We know we’re a brand, but at the same time, we really more so look at Wendy as like this cultural influencer,” says Kristin Tormey. As social media and gaming manager for Wendy’s, Tormey is largely responsible for shaping that voice and persona across platforms, from Twitter and Facebook to TikTok and Twitch. She also manages multiple agency partnerships with the brand to ensure brand consistency throughout various campaigns.
“When it comes to matching the tone, that’s a lot of work,” she says. “You just have to be aware of what’s going on out there, whether it’s what’s in the news, what’s in the industry, what’s going on on each platform, and how that tone is.”
Case in point: Every January, Wendy’s hosts a Roast Day, where Wendy takes to Twitter to grill people. It’s become a fun tradition that engages fans, but at the height of the pandemic, the idea didn’t feel right.
“The world was going through a lot, and it was like, ‘How do we match the tone or kind of like a surprise and delight our consumers in a really fun, entertaining way?’ So instead of roasting, we did a little bit of toasting with a campaign called GroupNug,” Tormey says.
GroupNug encouraged Twitter users to tag someone who could use a boost, and then Wendy’s would spotlight on them via the social media platform. Tormey says the swell of responses led to shout-outs to first responders, nurses, firefighters, family members, friends, and more. Fans could also use a code to get a free four-piece chicken nugget order.
Tormey started at Wendy’s five years ago, when Wendy’s social presence was focused almost exclusively on Twitter. Since then, she’s been a driving force behind taking the brand into not only new socialscapes like TikTok, but also the gaming world.
In summer 2019, “Wendy” began playing Fortnite on the game-streaming platform Twitch. Most recently, the chain entered the Metaverse in early April. Through virtual reality, fans could explore a branded park that included a Fanta soda fountain and a basketball court called the Buck BiscuitDome (the latter was especially timely given it coincided with the final games in the NCAA’s March Madness tournament).
It’s difficult for Tormey to name a single achievement she’s most proud of during her tenure at Wendy’s. However, one that still stands out. In 2019, Chance the Rapper tweeted a daily affirmation that implored the brand to bring back its Spicy Chicken Nuggets, which had been absent from the menu for two-plus years. The timing was ideal; Wendy’s had been having discussions about bringing the item back.
“As a marketer, you’re like, ‘Man, that’s a conversation that we’ve now been invited to on something we’ve been thinking about; we should probably jump in and see that the community really wants this,” Tormey says.
After talking to the higher-ups, Wendy’s issued a challenge: Get Chance’s tweet up to 2 million likes, and the Spicy Chicken Nuggets will return. It only took about 36 hours to reach that goal.
“It was like watching a slot machine; it just kept going up and up in real time,” Tormey says. “The reason I love that one so much is because it married so many different parts of our strategy as social for Wendy’s into one that just came through flawlessly.”
It’s interesting that in the age of influencers and social media savants, Tormey remains very much behind the scenes. She’s not looking to build a personal brand or rack up followers of her own. Instead, her efforts are squarely concentrated around the one and only Wendy.
“In terms of how I lead my team, it’s more by example versus having one person kind of stick out as the one person who leads all of Wendy’s,” she says. “We have so many different experts and so many different spaces on our team that it’s more so, how can I make sure that we have the place that we need to play, the opportunities in which we can grow and have this discovery phase to go do the big things.”