I had led our pitch and won the Wendy’s account at Ronalds-Reynolds. A few months later, Wendy’s came to us with news that McDonalds was planning a major new sandwich launch (which turned out to be the Mc D-L-T).  We needed to make some similar noise to compete.

We knew McDonalds’ budget would dwarf ours. Our intelligence told us McDonalds media strategy was akin to “be everywhere all the time.” Wendy’s told us their response would be to launch hot dogs.  Hot dogs??

Hardly an exciting new item.  Sure, it could be garnished it with cheese or chili or chili and cheese, but nothing revolutionary here.  We decided to borrow some interest for the introduction from celebrities and developed an idea we called The Great Canadian Hot Dog, like there was such a thing.

We found a number of well known celebrities, a cast that was hardly “A” list because of our budget: Rockin’ Ronnie Hawkins (former front man for The Band), Count Floyd from SCTV (Joe Flaherty), Carole Pope (from rock group Rough Trade, the Toronto Blue Jay’s mascot in costume, Sir John A. Macdonald (Canada’s first Prime Minister) and former hockey player Eddie Shack, known as much for his rambunctious enthusiasm when he played as for his huge handlebar mustache.

The ironic thing here was that Flaherty and Hawkins were transplanted U.S. citizens; Pope was born in the U.K. The Blue Jay mascot was imaginary, and Sir John A. had died about a century before.  So that left Eddie Shack as the only born and bred Canadian.  No matter, everyone identified them all as Canadians with some authority.

We also secured rights to a song called “Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom)” which was an old time Perry Como hit from the 1950s.  Anything to keep the attention away from the food, which was tasty but hardly revolutionary news.

The idea for the commercial was simply to have the celebrities holding a hot dog, mug to camera and take a bite.  Our shoot scheduled the celebs one after another and everything was going really well.  Count Floyd even gave us a vampire style bite of his hot dog.

Early in the afternoon, Eddie Shack arrived for his vignette.  He was incredibly pleased to be featured in a commercial because he had not done much commercial work for some time, and this was to be a national commercial.
He wanted to look his best. As a result, he showed up to the shoot, cleaned up really good and well dressed for success. Problem was, in getting cleaned up, he was also freshly shaven. No mustache. Now he just looked like an anonymous guy with a big nose.

We had hired him for his recognition which focused on his mustache. We asked Shack to wait in make up for his section of the commercial.  Meanwhile our makeup person constructed a mustache resembling Shack’s famous big nose duster.  She saved our shoot day.

She was successful in simulating the mustache and pasting it on him.  We shot our vignette of Shack enthusiastically eating the Wendy’s hot dog.

Then, on a whim, we asked for some footage of him ripping the mustache off to take a bite, like the hot dog was so good nothing should get in the way.  We thought it might look funny for an out take reel to show franchisees or something like that. The shot looked hilarious. So funny that we went with it in the final commercial.  Another lesson that when you are shooting a commercial, get everything you can think of because it may be useful later.

Enter “The Law of Unintended Consequences.” No sooner had the Wendy’s Hot Dog commercial gone on air with Shack ripping off his mustache than I got a call from our advertising industry press.

“Is it true that you used look-alikes instead of the real personalities?” they asked. “We noticed that your Eddie Shack did not have a real mustache!”

“Well, you got us,” I admitted, “We did use one look alike.”  I was thinking of the British actor playing John A. Macdonald. “But I am not at liberty to tell you which one it was,” I added.

I left it for them to figure out our Macdonald vs McDonalds ploy. Funnier yet, at the end of the year, we won a Bessie (Canadian TV award for advertising that got results) for our commercial.  The commercial generated a lot of trial for the hot dog during its promotional period.

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