When I first heard that fast-food giant Wendy's had a podcast, I was intrigued. When I heard they were calling it “Sir, This Is A Wendy's Podcast”, I pulled out my Leonardo DiCaprio slow clapping .gif and slow-clapped for the title.
But then I actually heard the episode and was a mixture of disappointed and baffled.
My first thought was: this is not a podcast. This is maybe a trailer for a podcast. But really, it’s more of an ad for burgers and fries. The audio was professionally produced and wasn’t just a re-purposed radio ad. But it lacked any real content we’ve grown accustomed to in the podosphere.
Then a few weeks ago (or maybe last week because time is weird), I learned the second episode of the podcast was available. Listening, I was struck by two things:
- While technically a podcast - an audio file delivered to podcast apps and directories via an RSS feed - this was still not a podcast. This was still the Wendy’s paid voice-over dude reading a slightly longer script than an ad he’s also voiced for radio play.
- That first episode I’d listened to an undefinable time ago was no longer in the feed. What happened to Episode One? Can you have an Episode Two without an Episode One? Is their plan to continue to only show a single episode in the feed, much like a feed for Amazon Alexa? WTF is going on, Wendy’s?
I was borderline-angry over all of this. Here was another Big Company jumping into a medium they don’t understand. Or worse, a Big Company that didn’t care to understand.
But then I set the self-righteous hot-take down and remembered that I’m the self-proclaimed contrarian voice of podcasting and that maybe I should take a moment or twelve to reflect rather than reacting.
I’m happy to report that I have completed said introspection and cogitation, and I now love Wendy’s podcast. For a lot of reasons.
No, It’s Not A Particularly Good Podcast
This isn’t an attempt to make a branded podcast, a concept that’s de rigueur for brands big and small. Done well, branded podcasts sound great. Done well, branded podcasts are incredibly difficult and expensive to pull off. Many fall short
Wendy’s had no intention of making a branded podcast. At least not out of this show.
They also didn’t set out to make a YAIP - yet another interview podcast. They didn’t choose to try to pull non-corporate speak out of their executive team. They choose to not feature impromptu or coached “real” customers talking about how fast-food changed their life. They opted to not get the life stories out of store managers or the person in the back making the fries.
They aren’t trying to build up hundreds of thousands of listeners with the goal of running ads for an additional revenue stream. Nor ar they trying to sell merch to their audience. Well, wait a minute. I guess they are trying to sell merch. If you consider sales of burgers and fries at their restaurants “merch”, I suppose.
Podcasting A Flagpole Event Just For Fans
I think Wendy’s is setting a flagpole with this podcast. They’re claiming their space in the podcasting landscape, perhaps with intentions to returning and doing more in the future. Sort of like a beachhead, if you want to think of it in military terms.
This tactic was employed by (and is still employed by) many brands and businesses entering a new digital space. Consider single-page websites (I’m a fan) or when businesses grab their Twitter handle but rarely - if ever - publish new content.
This technically-a-podcast-but-come-on might also serve as a non-nefarious (gods, I hope) secret society of fans. Like a knowing wink or secret handshake that only the hardest of hardcore Wendy's fans share. And yes, I assure you there are many, many people who are big fans of a particular fast-food chain who will fight you over it.
Exploring Podcasting By Leaning Into A Meme
With this new podcast clearly built for fans of the brand, Wendy’s can lean into a popular meme thrust upon them and define the brand’s own “official” take. Memes have a life of their own and are rather resistant to brand-based manipulation. But with this podcast, Wendy’s is both acknowledging the meme exists and putting their spin on it through one of their “owned” properties.
Is the podcast ever going to unseat the meme? No, of course not. Is the podcast as funny and silly as the meme? No, it’s not. But it wasn’t supposed to be. Remember, the content you hear today on the show is not the end goal. This is just what the brand is doing right now because the climate - for them - is right for it. I suppose it might be emblematic of what the show does forever, but I’d not bet money on that. Right now, this is a Big Brand capitalizing on a relatively long-lasting and widespread meme, showing their take in a weird, corporate sorta way.
It Only Took Us 16 Years To Get Here
While I’m sure there were other preceding examples of brands also taking the flagpole approach to podcasting, this one has received the most notoriety. And yes, I suppose I’m adding to that a bit. I can’t decide if I’m surprised it took so long to happen in podcasting, particularly when this activity is commonly seen across social media properties, all of which are much younger than podcasting.
We might be getting close to the point where having a podcast is an automatic, default behavior for most brands. Today, it’s hard to find a brand that doesn’t have a presence on social media. Is it really a stretch to think of a tomorrow where it’s hard to find a brand that doesn’t have a podcast? Maybe not what we think of today as a branded podcast. Maybe one that doesn’t feature interviews. Maybe those podcasts will look something like what Wendy’s is doing today.
Or more likely, future incursions by brands might look nothing like what Wendy’s is doing. Nor like what most podcasters are doing. Podcasting is funky that way, and Big Brands employ some pretty creative people doing mostly boring stuff 40 hours a week. Turn them loose, give them a budget, and who knows what they’ll come up with?
People like me who make podcasts on behalf of companies should love this show if only for obvious reasons: it’s one more example of a brand investing in the podcasting space.
But I think all working podcasters should dig what Wendy’s is doing. Not because it’s amazing, compelling content (it’s not). But because it’s an exploration of what else can be done in podcasting. No, I wouldn’t have bet on Wendy's leading this charge. But then again, I'm not up to speed on the Quick Serve Restaurant business.
I am, however, grateful that the Sir, This Is A Wendy's Podcast exists. If you haven't listened to it, you should. And you should be prepared to not love it. Hopefully, this writeup of mine acts as a sort of lens that lets you listen a little differently to see the value.
Please consider using this episode as a primer to send to your friend who’s a staunch defender of what podcasting is today. Maybe it’ll change their mind. Probably not.
If you, however, enjoy the modified perspective and want to buy me a burger to show me your appreciation, I suppose I could do that with the contribution you make at BuyMeACoffee.com/EvoTerra, couldn’t I?
I’ll be back tomorrow for another Podcast Pontifications.