There was a time when brands saw themselves as existing in a world outside of politics and social issues. They've since realised that isn't the case, and brand activism has become a growing force in marketing, particularly on social media. But that's led to some intense debate about whether the stances taken are meaningful or simply attempts to ride an important issue for a sales boost, and Wendy's is the latest brand to discover that.
The fastfood chain's famous logo has gone grey on social media in Canada in a show of solidarity with a TV news anchor who claims to have been dismissed for refusing to dye her hair. But what initially seems like a strong example of a brand taking a stance has caused huge division among customers (see our guide to how to design a logo for more on how logos contribute to a brand's identity).
Wendy's is a brand that's prepared to have some fun with its logo, as we recently saw with the emo Wendy's logo revealed in the UK. So when Lisa LaFlamme, a 58-year-old news anchor on Canada's CTV National News, announced that her contract was coming to an end, allegedly because she refused to continue to dye her hair blond, it saw a chance to take a stand.
The fastfood chain's usual logo shows a smiling redhead who was initially inspired by founder Dave Thomas's daughter Melinda Lou ("Wendy") Thomas-Morse. In response to LaFlamme's termination, Wendy's updated its social media profile pictures in Canada to turn the Wendy's logo's usual fiery red pigtails grey, saying “Because a ⭐️ is a ⭐️ regardless of hair colour."
But the decision has caused a deep division among customers. While some praised the brand for its support, some have questioned how honest the symbolism is. Other customers simply don't understand why such a fresh-faced young girl would have grey hair.
Because a ⭐️ is a ⭐️ regardless of hair colour. #LisaLaFlamme #NewProfilePic pic.twitter.com/g7i7kqwYrwAugust 25, 2022
"You just couldn't help yourselves with meaningless virtue signaling could you?" one person tweeted in response. "I don’t support woke company’s. I will no longer be eating at Wendy’s," another concluded succinctly. "What’s next, a LaFlamme broiled cheeseburger??" another person asked
Some people asked whether Wendy's would be backing up its statement by cancelling its advertising on the media company's channels, while others questioned Wendy's own record on discrimination on everything from age and weight to catering to allergies and... erm... serving dogs. "So not only did your restaurant discrimate on me buying 2 burger patties for my dog because 'they don't feed animals' but now your [sic] inserting yourselves into political biases," one person said.
Other people questioned the Wendy's logo change for more technical reasons, apparently concerned that it doesn't fit into the canon of Wendy lore. "Maybe I wouldn't question your sincerity so much if you had actually "aged" Wendy so she doesn't look like a 16-year-old girl who coloured her hair," one person said. "It's not about hair colour, it's about ageism." And one party pooper identified another fault in the Wendy timeline continuum: "Red heads bypass grey and go straight to white. Hence the grey colour is unrealistic" (because the official Wendy's logo is all about realism).
We're glad to see brands are becoming more aware of ageism along with other forms of discrimination, but the response shows brands need to think carefully when they make a statement – and when it's a specific timely case, they don't have much time to do that thinking. The grey Wendy's logo could be a brave statement as long as Wendy's backs the gesture up with its own actions. Otherwise, it will be too easy for the stance to be labelled as 'woke washing' (see the clever campaign that recently called out Mercedes for greenwashing).
Wendy's has certainly got people talking – and it's caused some customers on Twitter to just realise the apparently unintentional Wendy's logo secret that people have been talking about for ages. If you're looking to upgrade your own logo designs, take a look at our pick of the best logos for inspiration and make sure you have the best graphic design software.