I just attended a fantastic, standing room only SXSW panel titled "Why Social Ads Work. Ignore Facebook Naysayers" with Kurt Abrahamson, the CEO of ShareThis, and Brandon Rhoten, the Director of Digital Marketing for the Wendy's restaurant chain. Both Kurt and Brandon spoke very openly about digital advertising, and social ads in particular.

Wendy's is a $9 billion company with over 7,000 locations in US & Canada (although only 150 locations in CA). Its biggest competitors are other QSRs (Quick Service Restaurants) like McDonalds and Burger King, but Wendy's is more interested in what newer chains like Chipotle are doing than these more traditional competitors, since Wendy's biggest business challenge is to have 20 and 30 somethings choose Wendy's over chains like Chipotle (Wendy's does very well with the older demographic, though, since it's a 60+ year old brand). The entire QSR industry is a $519 billion industry.

Here's the video of the event (sorry for the poor video quality; I was barely able to squeeze into the room)

Kurt kicked the session off mentioning that Twitter is scaling revenue significantly with promoted tweets and API ads interface, and Tumblr is now selling 'stories' & implementing other native advertising discussions. He and Brandon went on to talk about topics including:

  • How Wendy's uses social ads to have authentic conversations with its target audience
  • How Burger King has 2x as many locations, but Wendy's has more revenue
  • That 60% of brands said they were going to spend more on social ads in 2013
  • Why Wendy's cares more about what Chipotle is doing than what McDonalds is doing
  • How Wendy's was the first QSR to do a Facebook Publishing Garage
  • Why Wendy's has 3 separate Facebook Pages
  • Why Wendy's doesn't give things away on its FB pages
  • What Wendy's typical engagement rate is on FB posts
  • What Wendy's official response was when the Burger King Twitter account was hacked
  • What brands are doing good things with social advertising
  • How Wendy's uses ShareThis to target social ads to their demo in ways that show a demonstrable ROI.
  • How social is everything that matters to Wendy's, especially since Wendy's is not a considered purchase (like a car) but rather an impulse purchase
  • How important day-parting and targeting the right demos is

It was a great panel, and a bunch of people gave me their biz cards afterwards, asking me to send them the video. Hope it's helpful! If you have more questions for Kurt or Brandon please write them in the comments below and I'll do my best to get you answers.