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Late Night Is Where It’s At For Wendy’s, Radio’s Top QSR Advertiser.


With about 90% of its stores now open until midnight or later, Wendy’s has ramped up its advertising to pull in more of the late night crowd for a burger and fries. The fast food chain, which has blown past McDonald’s in recent weeks as radio’s top quick serve restaurant advertiser, waited four years to flex its late night muscle, thanks to a global pandemic and the relaunch of its breakfast menu.


The after-hours strategy is working. In the second quarter, late night sales at Wendy’s grew by double digits, spurred by an increase in advertising. And that push will continue in the third quarter.


“We continue to see room to grow our share of this daypart versus our QSR competitors and are excited to continue advertising late night during the third quarter,” CEO Todd Penegor told analysts and investors on the company’s second quarter earnings call. “We believe the daypart will expand even further as customers come to know that Wendy's is reliably open for the high-quality late-night experience they deserve.”


Late nights outperformed the burger chain’s other dayparts in Q2 growth rates. Overall sales in the second quarter grew 4.9%. The breakfast daypart improved by mid-single digits, for its largest quarterly sales lift since its March 2020 launch.


Breakfast and late nights pose the potential to add sales without bringing in additional labor, Penegor said.


The burger chain opened 41 locations in Q2, for a net gain of 24, according to QSR magazine.


Wendy’s spent $42.8 million on advertising in the first three months of the year. That compares to $61.9 million for all of 2022 and $71.4 million in full year 2021, according to data from Winmo.com.


Radio received 7.9% of the fast food chain’s Q1 2023 ad budget, higher than digital (3.9%), out of home (2.3%) and print (0%). The vast majority of its ad dollars in the first quarter went to broadcast TV (86.0%).


These numbers reflect Q1, before Wendy’s turned up the juice on radio and throttled its way to the top of the Media Monitors chart. When Q1 share of wallet figures become available, it’s likely that radio’s share will be closer to what it was in all of 2022 when it reached 22.9%.


Wendy’s cranked up its radio weight into overdrive this summer. After climbing 8-2 on radio’s weekly spot count chart for the week of July 24-30, the restaurant chain hit the pole position for the first time in the first week of August and stayed there for the week of Aug. 7-13. Wendy’s has averaged about 46,000 radio spots for each of the past two weeks, not including the new numbers to be released Monday by Media Monitors.


For now the marketing focus remains on capturing a larger share of the late night pie. “Late night is a big opportunity for us,” Penegor added. “We've leaned in for the first time in about four years on advertising. It is incremental. We continue to see opportunities at midnight or later. We do see a big opportunity to drive delivery business as well as folks coming to our restaurant. So we do see that as highly incremental for our business. And the more that we drive awareness and the more that we get consumers to come to us and see that we're reliably open in the late-night daypart, the more we become part of that routine. So we see a lot of opportunities there, too.”

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