We’re living in the age of fake heritage. It’s the ideal time to be running an old-timey barbershop or an artisanal, back-to-basics asbestos manufacturing plant—anything that connects your business to a purer, more authentic-seeming past. But for the first time in nearly 30 years, Wendy’s—the fast food chain with imagery most defined by tradition—has redesigned their logo with Tesser. They’ve turned from the soda-fountain font and charmingly anachronistic billboarding to an open-air, Sharpie-scrawled creation, complete with Wendy herself—pigtails intact. "We feel that we have a very authentic brand steeped in heritage," Wendy’s SVP of Communications Denny Lynch tells me. "We want to tap into that legacy, but do it in the world of 2012."
Like any change to a long-standing logo, it’ll wet-willy your eyeballs initially. But after the shock wears off, it appears to be an all-around solid update. The logo itself is part of a complete rebranding campaign for the company, which will roll out along with new stores, uniforms, menu boards, and packaging in 2013. For a company that’s finally challenged Burger King for the #2 burger spot, it’s actually a bit of a risk; they’re clearly doing some things right in the eyes of consumers. So while Wendy’s looked to modernize their franchise, they checked in constantly with focus groups to create a familiar branding "evolution, not a revolution."
"We went through pretty much two years of effort and dozens of iterations of what logos would look like," Lynch explains. "Everything from really minor changes to radical changes. As we went through this process, we stopped at every point and talked to consumers, franchisees, and then got their feedback … and we went through this process three or four times."
For Wendy’s, a radical redesign meant anything from changing their hue of red to using an avant garde font to giving Wendy herself a modern, "hip" makeover. We shudder to imagine Wendy donned in ironic '80s apparel, Wendy with a ribcage tattoo, Wendy with Wayfarers—maybe even a Midwestern-friendly Wendy sporting "the Rachel."
"When we showed them the radical designs, they said, that’s not you, that’s not you," Lynch recounts. So ultimately, after plenty of consumer feedback, Wendy’s indentified their three core brand components: the color red, Wendy herself, and what the company calls "the wave," referring to how the the word "Wendy’s" is written on an upward slant. Removing this slant was met with a lot of negative feedback.
But while the wave remains the same, the typography—maybe the biggest visual change—is entirely new. "We made it more like a signature, because we found by doing that, it was a little more inviting and personal," Lynch says. Type design nerds, however, may find something a bit odd about the letter spacing, as Brand New points out.
But Wendy’s is betting most everyday people will be pleased with the new logo, and they have the large-scale focus-grouping to support that hypothesis. Much like they have more than a hunch that nine out of ten anonymous tastebuds will enjoy the precise salinity levels of the Baconator. But what may have been unexpected was the effect a new logo would have on its own employees.
"It just energizes people," Lynch says. "You walk around the building now, our headquarters, you show people the logo. Some people have to get used to it. It’s a change. But as they do warm up to it, it energizes the whole company. It’s a new life, a new way of looking at things."