Wendy's New 'Son of Baconator' Shows That Burger Chain Trying To Learn From Its Mistakes

LOS ANGELES , August 8, 2012 () – Here’s how consumers look at fast-food burger options these days: You have your value-menu burgers and your premium burgers. The value-menu ones are smaller but cheaper, the premium ones are bigger but more expensive. Pretty simple, right?

What isn’t simple is throwing a mid-range burger into the mix. These types of burgers warrant two important questions for businesses:

1) “Who’s going to buy this?” And 2) “Are the people who will buy this the ones that we want to buy it?”

Wendy’s Co. found out the answers to these questions the hard way with its “W” cheeseburger not too long ago. This mid-range burger (the retail price was $2.99) was meant to target value-menu folks like me and get us to spend a bit more on a slightly bigger burger without feeling like our wallets were hit too hard.

It failed. Big time.

For one thing, us value-menu people didn’t bite. The way we saw it, why spend $3 on a burger when we can buy three 99-cent burgers instead? In our value-menu minds, it’s about quantity. Second, people who were buying the premium burgers actually started buying the “W” instead because they now had an option that was both cheaper and yet bigger than the value-menu offerings.

In short, it was lose-lose. But Wendy’s new “Son of Baconator” burger shows that the company is trying to learn from its mistakes.

The “Son of Baconator” is a smaller version of Wendy’s Baconator sandwich, which has become a staple of the chain’s premium-burger selection. And Wendy’s is doing two things here that are brilliant. First, they’re launching a burger that’s piggybacking off a proven product. So right away, “Son of Baconator” has credibility. Also, value-menu people will be more willing to try a mid-range burger that’s connected to a premium product, because they feel they can try the product without paying a premium price.

And second: Wendy’s is not putting its junior bacon burger in the spotlight by itself. Its most recent marketing campaign actually tacks on the “Son of Baconator” at the end of a commercial promoting the full-sized option, with the commercial telling viewers to “decide how big you want to go.” Wendy’s is trying to link the burgers together so that the son can get some help from the father.

Finding a mid-range audience isn’t easy, but Wendy’s approach might very well prove that the “Son of Baconator” is a chip off the old block.

Nevin Barich is the Food & Beverage Analyst for Industry Intelligence Inc., a market intelligence and information management firm based in Los Angeles. Nevin has also never met a fast-food value menu item that he didn’t like. He can be reached at n.barich@industryintel.com

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