Wendy’s roasts – Turning laughter into engagement

The use of humor in marketing has always been an interesting and controversial topic to researchers and marketers. Several attempts are made to determine how it functions and what possible response can humor generate. The advent of Internet and the remarkable change in technology require marketing to change and adapt. New marketing platforms like Facebook, Instagram are introduced, providing higher chance for marketers to reach customers at much lower cost. However, many risks come along with these advantages. If the marketing plan goes wrong, there is a high likelihood that it will forever ruin the brand image. Therefore, it is essential to understand thoroughly the operating principle of humor to know how to apply humor for different platforms.
When it comes to successful marketing on new platform, we cannot skip out one of the latest marketing success from Wendy. Watch Wendy transforms from a 40-year old brand into a global sensation. If you’re not familiar, the concept is this: Wendy is roasting Twitter user and its competitor with playful sarcasm and relevant humor. It is a bold move but it clearly pays off since Wendy tweets are so well-received by the social community.

The name Wendy is no stranger to many people. It is a famous company in the fast food industry, in alignment with big names like Burger King or McDonald. Lately, we all have a chance to know Wendy not from its signature food but from its infamous marketing campaign – roasting customer on Twitter. On January 2th, Wendy posted a picture of their special hamburger and coke with the caption “our beef is too cool to be frozen”. Not everyone agrees with this bold claim and a Twitter user fired back, accusing Wendy of telling lie. At this point, all of us did not expect a reply from Wendy since brands normally do not communicate with customers unless you are making a complaint. To everyone surprise, Wendy decided to go head-to-head, roasting the poor guy with the most hilarious and witty tweet. This roasting battle immediately received great attention and eventually caused a huge uproar. Within a few days, this single post got 20000 likes and almost 10000 retweets.

Asides from roasting the people, Wendy shows no mercy when it comes to roasting its rivalry like Burger King and McDonald. And I got to say, all those tweets are genius. It does not mean that other brands do not embrace humor in their campaign, but Wendy is definitely one step ahead in the game by constantly being creative and thinking outside the box.

There are numerous determinants which contribute to Wendy success like timing, response rate ect. However, being funny and witty is the real hero. According to statistics collected on Twitter, playful roasts and jokes account for more than 90% of the tweets, replies to requests. Humorous posts are also among the top engagement ones. Every single content they provide , Wendy made sure it brings joy and pleasant surprise to audiences, from roasting them, roasting McDonald to solving a math problem for a kid who promises to buy Wendy’s burger if they help him with his homework. Clearly, there is a domination of humorous content in Wendy game plan and it works.

In fact, the use of humor in marketing was introduced century ago but only started to gain popularity in the last few decades. The major force leading to this change is the dramatic growth of technology and redefinition in the role of consumer and seller.
Humor is a powerful weapon when it comes to effect on human perception of something. According to a global survey carried by Nielsen in 2013, 47% of participants admitted that they are most triggered by ads with funny and relevant jokes.

Many people even associate social platforms like Twitter with the term “humor”. The result from User Profile Study, an online survey conducted in US in 3013 suggested that 47% Twitter users spend time on Twitter just to kill boredom and to read funny posts. So exactly how can humor have such impact on us?

In 2004, Julia Zuwerink Jacks and Maureen e. O’Brien conducted a psychological test examining consumer resistance, “a motivated state in which the goal is to withstand the effects of a persuasive communication”. In the prime time of technology, human privacy is being severely abused. Big corporation and social network like Facebook or Linkedln are spying on our life and use the data collected to target us with all kinds of marketing and ads. This makes people feel that their privacy is invaded and that the ads are manipulative and misleading. Therefore, they develop a resistance system that prevents them from believing in all kinds of message that the commercial targets. How to solve consumer resistance become a difficult question for marketer.

Fortunately, recent studies have found that humor plays an important role in decreasing consumer resistance. There are two theories that are proposed to explain the working mechanism of humor on one’s thinking process (Strick, 2012): the cognitive and the affective model. The cognitive model is based on the assumption that resistance is the process that requires concentration and a person cannot focus on many things at the same time due to limited cognitive resources. Therefore, humor serves as a way to distract attention and to make audience forget that they are watching an ad. Affective model, on the other hand, assumes that humor can provoke happy feeling and laughter, which in turn will reduce the resistance level. The more cheerful they are, the less resistant they become.

Wendy case can be explained from both points of view: the funny and witty element in the tweet make people laugh and at the same time distract them from the fact that they are actually viewing a marketing tweet. For example, Wendy tweet about its high-quality beef is definitely an advertisement. However, this claim was followed up with some playful and witty roasts, which eventually draw a lot of attention and interest. More than 20000 likes mean more than 20000 people got engaged in these tweets. They do not feel uncomfortable about the advertising tweet, instead, they love the unique and hilarious way that Wendy market themselves.

Another effect of humor that worths mentioning is that it increases the authenticity of marketing, especially in social marketing when consumer and seller can have direct communication. Fake and scripted voice can never win consumers’ heart. They are already tired of the robotic, boring replies from brands and companies, they want to communicate with real people that have emotion. By using humor in their tweets, Wendy is able to build up a distinctive brand personality in consumer’s eyes and this makes the brand “approachable”. Imagine how you feel when a multi-million company is talking to you? Surprised but excited for sure. The proof is after just a few months, Wendy generated a 35% increase in number of follower on Twitter, which account for more than 900.000.

Last but not least, fun and humor make the ad memorable. The ultimate goal of marketing is to catch the eye of the audience and that exactly what humor can do. Marketers need to give customers something that keeps them interested. It is true that Wendy tweets are also a type of marketing, but they are marketing it in such a unique way by making fun of people and their competitors. Moreover, the tweets are so funny and captivating, that people do not feel offended. Instead, that uniqueness becomes a selling point for Wendy. No one will remember a Twitter post if it is dull and boring but they are likely to remember a funny and clever post. As mentioned above, humor makes people happy, and those positive experiences will make customers remember the brand in short- or long-term.

Humor plays an important role in mediating the human’s mind. By provoking positive emotion, it puts our mind at ease and gets rid of all exhaustion or stress. To marketers, humor is useful in reducing consumer resistance and increasing their engagement in the brand. As a result, I do recommend that marketers put more thought on embracing humor effectively in their campaign. Of course, throwing a random joke will not make a marketing campaign successful but a rational combination of humor and other factors (such as creativity, uniqueness) like the way Wendy did with their tweets might result in an unexpected success.


1. Cipriani, Natasha (2017), “Wendy’s and Their Wicked Social Media Game”, (accessed 1st 2017), [available at https://medium.com/rta902/wendys-and-their-wicked-social-media-game-afb94cbff33e%5D
2. DeMers ,Jayson (2017), “What Your Business Should Know Before Imitating Wendy’s Twitter Feed”, (accessed 1st 2017), [available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/jaysondemers/2017/01/17/is-wendys-winning-or-losing-with-its-twitter-roasting-streak/#1c5642991944 ]
3. Germiller , Chris(2017), “The Psychology of Humor: How to Make Jokes on Social Media”, (accessed 2nd 2017), [available at https://www.tracx.com/resources/blog/the-psychology-of-humor-how-to-make-jokes-on-social-media/ ]
4. Jacks, J. Z., & O’Brien, M. E. (2004), “Decreasing resistance by affirming the self”, Resistance and persuasion (pp. 117-148). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
5. Shrivastava, Tripti (2017), “5 Findings from Wendy’s Epic Week on Twitter”, (accessed 2nd 2017), [available at https://simplymeasured.com/blog/5-findings-from-wendys-epic-week-on-twitter/#sm.001vwd5c4125tf1kpdd29lyf4dln9 ]
6. Spotts, Harlan E., Marc G. Weinberger, and Amy L. Parsons (1997),”Assessing the Use and Impact of Humor on Advertising Effectiveness: A Contingency Approach,” Journal of Advertising, 26 (3), 17-32
7. Strick, M., Holland, R. W., van Baaren, R. B., & van Knippenberg, A. (2012). Those who laugh are defenseless: How humor breaks resistance to influence. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 18(2), 213-223.
8. Kerpen, Dave (2011), Likeable Social Media: How to Delight Your Customers, Create an
Irresistible Brand, and Be Generally Amazing on Facebook (and Other Social Networks). New York, New York: McGraw-Hill Com

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