‘Where’s the Beef?’ Is Going Viral (Again). How Are Meat Industry Communicators Responding?

As meat processing plants around the U.S. close temporarily due to COVID-19 outbreaks, the supply chain disruption has started to reach consumers. Bulk retailer Costco has limited beef and ground pork sales per customer, as has Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the country. Wegmans, Hy-Vee and others are also experiencing shortages.

The disruption has also started to hit fast food chains, particularly Wendy’s, which is seeing a lot of 'Where’s the Beef?' chatter on social media and in news headlines. (Quick history: The slogan was phased out in 1986—soon after the ad's star player, Clara Peller, used the tagline, "I found it, I really found it" for a Prego commercial, vexing Wendys' legal team).

Given its place in the American lexicon, it is somewhat unfortunate for Wendy’s that the phrase is going viral yet again, let alone in a viral outbreak.

Wendys' "always fresh, never frozen" slogan, launched in 2007, is much fresher in the minds of the American public. The brand rose to prominence on social media for its clever brand voice, most memorably its response to a Twitter troll in 2017 questioning the "never frozen" claim.

Rivals like McDonald’s do use some frozen beef in their offerings, and news of meat processing disruptions at those chains have yet to hit mainstream media. But their social media managers and communications teams are likely monitoring Wendy’s response (or at least, they would be well-advised to do so).

Given Wendys' reputation for bold and snarky Twitter responses, the brand is staying surprisingly silent on the shortage, which the New York Times reports has hit over 1,000 restaurants, a fifth of its national storefronts. Instead, it is focusing on entertaining fans with an online scavenger hunt for gift codes.

Although perhaps counterintuitive, this is a communications best practice for a brand like Wendy's in a moment marked by uncertainty: Keep giving audiences what they crave—in Wendys' case, amusing content—rather than speculating on the unknowable future. Until the social media team receives orders from the top about long-term changes to the menu, the brand can keep doing what it does best on that channel, offering up witty and diverting content.

Meanwhile, the Texas Beef Council, a group whose stated mission is to "improve Texas producer profitability by strengthening and expanding beef demand," has been busy on its own communications grind. While the Council did not respond to a request for comment, its COVID-19 microsite is a veritable case study in pandemic communications. It is easy to find from a user perspective, at the top of the homepage, rather than buried in a dropdown menu.

On its microsite, the Council offers the latest on the organization’s current advertising activities and outreach around areas such as nutrition and health, retail, food service and international exports. While concise and stark, the page copy is painstakingly transparent, sharing a delayed production timeline for its Hulu reality series BBQuest, for instance. "Paid and social communication for Beef Loving Texans will focus on freezer meals, leftovers, cooking at home, and ground beef," the "Advertising and Content" section reads.

Anyone connected to the organization can access up-to-date information in this centralized location. Messaging on the page sets clear expectations for external and internal stakeholders based on available information, another crisis communications best practice. Direct contact information is provided at the bottom of the page, as well as a footer stating the website is "Funded by the Beef Checkoff and Beef Promotion and Research Council."

This article is part of PRNEWS' ongoing daily COVID-19 coverage.