One of the most quotable advertising campaigns of the 1980s, "Where's the Beef?" was a 1984 Wendy's advertising campaign that starred octogenarian Clara Peller and two other old ladies (Mildred Lane and Elizabeth Shaw). Initially impressed at the size of the competition's hamburger buns, the trio is dismayed to find the burger patty underneath overly minuscule in comparison, which prompts Clara to ask, "Where's the beef?" The shtick of the ads was that Wendy's modestly-named single patty had more beef than McDonald’s Big Mac or Burger King’s Whopper, more than enough to fill the bun.
The ad quickly reached memetic status, and was referenced in the 1984 Democratic primaries by both sides. The slogan's success spawned a host of merchandise, including stickers, mugs, coasters, a board game, and even a single released on vinyl record. Several sequels were filmed with Clara's character going to different restaurants to demand where her beef was.
Though the ad campaign lasted only a year due to Clara Peller appearing in a Prego commercial that had her saying "I found it, I really found it" with Wendy's claiming that it inferred she found the beef at somewhere under than Wendy's, its appeal lives on; in 2011 Wendy's briefly resurrected the phrase. The original ads can be seen here, and the revival ad can be seen here.
These ads and related media contain examples of:
- Bland-Name Product: The competing restaurants are given generic names like "Home of the Big Bun" or "House of Buns" to avoid referencing Wendy's actual competition, despite the announcer namedropping the Big Mac and Whopper when promoting the burger.
- Competing Product Potshot: Both the ads and the record take shots at McDonald's and Burger King. The announcer always brags that Wendy's uses more beef in their patty than the Big Mac or Whopper, and one drive-thru ad depicts Clara driving through a yellow arch. The song makes it clear they're mocking McDonald's when the manager at the House of Buns tells Clara to "check under that special sauce" for her beef.
- Cool Old Lady: Part of the ad's appeal was Clara's bluntness and attitude being seen as cool and relatable to viewers.
- The Dreaded: By the time of the third ad, Clara has become a dreaded figure among the competitors, who hurriedly rush to close the drive-thru on sight of her.
- Drives Like Crazy: This ad has Clara driving like crazy in search of the beef and sending everyone else in the car flying.
- Drive-Thru Antics: One ad has Clara angrily driving around town to shout the titular slogan at various drive-thru places, which shut their windows on her mid-sentence.
- Just Ignore It: This seems to be the management strategy of the Home of the Big Bun, as they're almost never on call when Clara or the others ask for help, and in one ad the manager is seen lounging on a cruise ship.
- Loud of War: In one ad "Where's the beef?" is shouted so loudly over the phone it knocks the owner of the Big Bun over.
- MacGuffin: Finding The Beef is the main object of the tie-in board game and card game.
- Misleading Package Size: The first ad has the old ladies marvel at how big the "big, fluffy bun" is, and are dismayed to open it and find a burger patty no bigger than a silver dollar.
- Mundane Made Awesome: A little old lady yelling "Where's the beef!?" became a national phenomenon, and Wendy's sales increased 31% as a result of the campaign.
- Never Mess with Granny: Clara and her fellow old ladies will stop at nothing to find where that darn beef is, including driving and shouting at every other restaurant in town.
- Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: The ads gained fame from an old lady yelling "Where's the beef!?" when the competition's hamburgers are more bun than burger.