Wendy’s has opened its first restaurant in Russia, the burgers, fries and even the ice cream drink make you feel just like you are in the United States. But Russia’s rendition of the company’s wholesome red-headed icon, Wendy, is raising some eyebrows.
It was not too long ago in Russia that choice was a dirty word, as this Wendy’s commercial from the 1980s suggests. So anything American in Russia was a big deal.
Like when the very first fast-food restaurant - McDonald's - opened in Russia here on Pushkin Square in 1990.
"It was an incredible deal. I was here," said advertising executive John Rose, owner of Rose Creative Strategies in Moscow. "First of all you have got to remember there were no restaurants, really, in Moscow at the time; very few brands. The excitement it caused was incredible. People did not have a lot of money, and the idea that they could get a Western meal for that kind of money was something special."
But that was then. Now McDonalds operates 279 restaurants throughout the country. Add Papa John’s pizza, Subway and Burger King, among others, to the mix and that means being an American company is not as exciting as it used to be.
New approach at Moscow restaurant
Victoria Hargrave, senior international projects manager at the Edelman public relations firm, said "With so many international brands here, I think being an international company has lost its appeal. I think now it is more about international companies showing they are Russian companies and that they can appeal to Russians, to the Russian sense of humor, Russian identity."
So, the Wenrus restaurant group, which operates the Wendy's chain in Russia, might be forgiven for trying to make the restaurant’s image a bit more "sexy." The restaurant itself looks the same. The wholesome, pig-tailed iconic Wendy image still adorns the façade and the walls inside.
But at various locations on Arbat Street, is a decidedly different Wendy. The little redhead is re-envisioned as actual female restaurant workers who are wearing short skirts, striped knee-high socks and stiletto heels with their pigtails. The women try to lure customers into the restaurant.
Reaching out to younger crowd
Wenrus Restaurant Group’s boss told local media that given the competition in Moscow, he wanted to appeal to a younger demographic. He said that generally, fast food customers are men between the ages of 18 and 24.
But American Scott Holder thinks it is a shame that Wendy would be given a makeover. "For me, I would personally not want it. I would personally rather keep the wholesome-type image a little more," he said.
"Hey, it is Russia. Get over it. It makes sense," said Rose.
Breaking out from the pack
Rose said Russians are not burdened by puritan values. And he pointed out that one cannot judge their tastes by American standards. "People here dress up more, women here certainly dress sexier. I think that is just part of who they are. I think it is a sexy place to be. And I do not think anyone is batting an eye... except for the people outside," he said.
One of those outsiders who is batting an eye is Wendy’s/Arby’s Group Chief Operating Officer Andrew Skehan. Russian media quoted Skehan as being surprised that Wendy, modeled after the restaurant founder’s eight-year-old daughter, had undergone an overhaul. He apparently found out when he attended the restaurant’s grand opening.
So was that really necessary? Public relations manager Victoria Hargrave said, "I am sure it must be hard. It seems that the Russian market, especially for new restaurants, is pretty competitive. So I am pretty sure any restaurant coming into the area is trying to do something new and creative to get the attention for a new opening."
American Carrie Holder said she does not get it and does not think it is necessary. "Wow, in the United States we are a lot more prude or modest with our bodies," she said.
Judging from the long lines outside the Wendy’s on Moscow’s trendy Arbat Street the past couple of weeks, sexy sells in the former Soviet Union.