Wendy’s Search for Sizzlin’ Sounds is an integrated public relations program designed to activate consumers’, specifically young adult males’, love of hamburgers and communicate Wendy’s hamburger equities through song.  The program was developed to capitalize on three young adult male media patterns – watching cable television networks, listening to the radio/buying CDs and surfing the Internet – and marry those with Wendy’s hamburger attributes. 


By leveraging existing advertising, we forged an online partnership with RollingStone.com and a broadcast partnership TNN/CMT to develop this songwriting contest.  Not only did the program reach its targeted consumers, (YAMs and Quick Service Restaurant consumers, in general) it also increased Wendy’s hamburger attribute ratings including “Best Tasting Hamburgers” and “Hamburgers with fresh, crisp toppings.”  This program became the largest and most integrated marketing initiative in Wendy’s history and its first online promotion. 


(NOTE:  Each quarter, Wendy’s commissions hamburger attribute consumer surveys to be conducted by an independent research firm.  These hamburger attribute ratings give Wendy’s insight to how consumers rank their food in comparison to McDonald’s, Burger King and other key competitors. )




Ketchum looked to a variety of places to research the viability of Wendy’s Search for Sizzlin’ Sounds.


Would it make sense for Wendy’s to sponsor a contest that celebrated consumers’ passion for the patty?

Proprietary focus group research conducted by Forbes Consulting Group, Inc., for Wendy’s uncovered that a key factor for consumers when eating hamburgers is “a feast for the senses”.

They saw hamburgers as a “sensory pleasure” giving them the green light to indulge.

According to focus group research, nearly all consumers – even those who did not report an affinity for Wendy’s – acknowledge that freshness of ingredients and preparation are superior at Wendy’s.


Would music be a viable outlet for this audience?

According to Simmons research, young adult males enjoy attending rock/pop concerts, buying CDs and are heavy radio listeners.


What sort of musical affiliation would be best for this target audience?

According to Simmons research, young adult males enjoy attending rock/pop concerts, buying CDs and are heavy radio listeners.


Country music had a strong appeal with other QSR audience segments, with 20 percent of the overall population listening to country radio weekly.


What media does this target audience use most often?

51% of Internet users are males with nearly 40% of those male users ages 18-34.

According to Simmons research, young adult males are heavier radio listeners than females.


Only 16% of Gen X read the newspaper daily, according to Yankelovich Monitor.





Using the research the team developed the following audience definition for the program: Primary audience:  YAMs, ages 18 – 34; Secondary audience:  QSR consumers


Once the audience was defined, the team developed the following goals:

  • Creatively reach and activate young adult males (YAMs) with Wendy's hamburger superiority messages (YAMs are heavy quick service restaurant (QSR) and hamburger users)
  • Motivate consumers to “act on” their love of hamburgers
  • Support overall hamburger marketing program to boost/maintain hamburger attribute ratings


The research led the team to determine the following strategies in creating the program:

  • Select tactics/partners that capture YAMs where they already are.
  • Leverage Wendy’s advertising buys to solicit partnerships that provide strong promotional support.
  • Use consumer participation to get people to think about their hamburger-eating emotions and the hamburger characteristics that are attributable to Wendy’s (fresh toppings, juicy patties, pure beef, etc.) – not just the Wendy’s brand name.
  • Provide a cost-effective way to develop an integrated campaign with major partners with a limited budget. ($210,000 in fee and $150,000 in out-of-pocket expenses)


Using these strategies Ketchum created a program that featured:

  • An online partnership with Rollingstone.com, who developed sizzlinsounds.com, an interactive Web site that allowed consumers to enter online via MP3 technology and hear sample and featured entries for inspiration.
  • A broadcast partnership with TNN/CMT, which leveraged a major ad buy from Wendy’s media planning group and provided more than 250 promotional spots, as well as featured space on TNN/CMT’s traveling vehicles at 15 events throughout the contest timeframe.
  • In-store support on trayliners and bag stuffers that featured the contest partners’ logos and sizzlinsounds.com address.  The in-store presence enabled bartering with Rollingstone.com for additional online promotion.
  • Public relations support that focused on online and radio media outlets for the target audience, but also incorporated traditional print and television for the general QSR audience.




The execution phase of the promotion was segmented into three phases:  1) contest announcement; 2) contest momentum; and 3) winner announcement.


Announcement Phase

We blanketed the top 25 markets to increase awareness of the contest with a press kit and media follow-up.

We supported public relations efforts with a contest promotional spot that aired on Country Music Television/ The Nashville Network more than 250 times.

We conducted a radio media tour with Dave Thomas and Anthony Mathile, a Chicago area music producer, editor for RollingStone.com and contest judge.

Radio media tour focused on top radio stations in the top 25 DMA markets, with heavy emphasis on national radio networks like Talk America, Radio America Network and USA Radio Networks.


Momentum Phase

We began compiling entries to create a Sizzlin’ Sounds CD to be distributed to radio outlets that participated in the radio media tour to continue building excitement with their listeners and act as a teaser for print and online media to showcase the quality entries received.

We conducted extensive media relations to further tailor our media lists targeting outlets interested in receiving additional information about the contest winner.

RollingStone.com included a mention of the contest and link to sizzlinsounds.com in their daily e-mail.

We established a Sizzlin’ Sounds booth at Country Music Television truck stops in Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and 11 other markets.


Winner Announcement

Local and national media relations efforts were conducted in the runners-up, finalist and Grand Prize winner markets, as well as local markets where we received positive feedback during other contest phases.

We focused heavily on radio and online media outlets with a secondary focus on print media.

To provide a visual for the contest, we staged a “surprise” announcement where Dave Thomas made an appearance at one of the Grand Prize winning band’s rehearsals to tell them they were the Grand Prize winners.

During the rehearsal we filmed B-roll and distributed the footage nationally to broadcast media.




Hamburger attribute rating achieved ten all-time highs, among them, “best tasting” and “best quality” hamburgers.  No other hamburger advertising or public relations programs were executed during this time, beyond what had been running for the past 1.5 years


Top entries (judged by music experts from RollingStone.com and CMT/TNN) included hamburger verbiage that echoed that of Wendy’s marketing, although the only lyrical requirements was that there be no branded mentions


80% of contest entrants were male and approximately 76% of those male entrants were 18-34 years old


More than 71,000 unique visitors to sizzlinsounds.com


Public relations campaign garnered more than 170 million confirmed media impressions: Two placements on E! Online in both the contest announcement and winner announcement phases, placements on Wirednews.com, RollingStone.com, USA Radio Networks, Radio America Network and Gannett News Service

Media coverage skewed more heavily toward radio and online media outlets (nearly 116 million) vs. television and print media outlets (nearly 38 million)