Where's the Beef? Time to Make the Donuts.
Rule #1 of marketing is brand allegiance. Ronald McDonald, though quite a scary character, had nothing to do with hamburgers and everything to do with children.
Two commercial series that debuted in 1984 are seared into my brain. Yes, the series, images and words live on, cliché-like as an old McDonald's hamburger that never deteriorates.
First, Wendy's "Where's the Beef" campaign. Featuring octogenarian Clara Peller, along with Mildred Lane and Elizabeth Shaw in supporting roles, the series basically makes fun of the size and composition of competitors hamburgers, particularly the Whopper and the Big Mac.
To the dismay of Peller, the meat portion of these burgers was insultingly minimal, leading her to demand, "Where's the Beef?" Wendy's stock soared, with profits increasing some 31% in 1985. Click here to see the original commercial.
As Yahoo Entertainment News reported, "Hitting the airwaves on January 10, 1984, 'Where's the Beef?' was an instant sensation, spawning a series of Peller-starring sequels along with a raft of merchandise, from T-shirts to bumper stickers to Frisbees to a board game. Peller even recorded a "Where's the Beef?" novelty single with Nashville disc jockey Coyote McCloud." You can listen to the song here. Peller became a media darling, making the talk show rounds, and even making a cameo on Saturday Night Live.
The other commercial series glazed over my memory is Dunkin' Donuts "Time to Make the Donuts" campaign. Featuring 'Fred the Baker', played by Michael Vale, a middle-aged, married worker who is so dedicated to his job that neither snow, rain, nor time of day will keep him from making those yummy fried morning treats. It is as if he is "on call", like a donut doctor. Here is a compilation of all the commercials from the series.
Though intentional, Fred the Baker was weary from the dough, sugar and hot oil routine, the service worker blues if you will. I wonder how Gen Z for Change, who is currently behind the Tik Tok campaign to support the Amazon Labor Union, might have been inspired to support Wendy's workers – in 1984. I know, time travel is not real, but subjunctive imagining is something tangible and useful.
As Maria Scinto from Mashed reported in 2020, "Michael Vale kept on making those metaphorical donuts for 14 years. When Dunkin' decided it was time for a new ad campaign in 1997, they surveyed customers to find out how they'd react to the departure of everyone's favorite early riser. Fred fans asked that the baker be allowed to bow out with dignity, so the company staged an official retirement party for him complete with a parade in Boston and 6 million free donuts given away…. Fred, or Vale, was also awarded an emeritus position as 'Dunkin' Ambassador' in charge of repping the brand at charitable events."
Perhaps the Luther Burger is the consequence of the consummation of these two commercial series. In 2017, Sandwich Tribunal, asked this spirited question, "As in ancient Rome, our donut culture may be reaching a point of orgiastic decadence, which sooner or later will implode from sheer excess. Can a civilization survive the Luther Burger, a cheeseburger served on a split Krispy Kreme?"