Thursday, September 6, 2012

Pitt football fans hungry for a 'W' - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Tonight is a big night for fans of the University of Pittsburgh's football team as the Panthers try to prove themselves against the University of Cincinnati on national television.

The fans are hungry for a victory.

OK, that was a little ham-handed, but you'll have to forgive me. I just finished speaking with Emily Mannion, a field marketing manager with Wendy's, and people in her line of work speak an entirely different language.

Restaurants aren't "fast-food," they're "quick-service." "Customers" are "followers." Meat is always "100 percent pure North American, fresh, never-frozen beef," and lettuce is a "fresh quality topping prepared daily."

Ms. Mannion, who works with the 72 Wendy's restaurants in the Pittsburgh region, was touting the chain's latest promotion -- the "Son of Baconator," a bacon-topped cheeseburger that Wendy's is giving away to Pitt students who attend tonight's viewing party on the lawn outside the Petersen Events Center in Oakland.

It's part of a nationwide promotion that will see more than 30,000 sandwiches -- smaller versions of their "Baconator" -- given out in 20 towns across the country.

This is the part where you say, "Hey, wait a minute, Dan! This looks like you're blatantly shilling for Wendy's."

And Dan responds, "I didn't hear you complaining when I told you about that gala art show where the paintings were being sold."

Besides, this is about bacon.

"Always, as long as I can recall, you could always add bacon onto a hamburger at Wendy's," said Ms. Mannion, who has been with the company since 2008. "Through the years, bacon has really taken a mind of its own and become extremely popular across the nation."

Earlier this summer, Burger King introduced bacon mixed in with the caramel and chocolate in their ice cream sundaes.

"Wendy's introduced the Baconator years ago, and it really has become a product that people love," Ms. Mannion said. "The Son of Baconator is a smaller sandwich that still offers four strips of thick, center-cut Applewood Smoked Bacon."

Bacon doesn't seem like a word that needs to be all gussied up, but those are some mighty appetizing adjectives Ms. Mannion uses.

Fast-food restaurants roll out these special menu items every once in a while to mix things up a little bit. McDonald's throws out a McRib, Burger King ups the ante with sweet potato fries, and Wendy's hits back with an Asiago Ranch Chicken Club.

"We set up our national calendar with different items, whether we want to promote our value items or our core products," Ms. Mannion said. "The Pittsburgh market loves our large sandwiches and premium offerings.

"You have people come in and order a Spicy Chicken Combo all the time because that's their favorite menu item. But a lot of these new offerings keep customers intrigued and wanting to come back to try the new products."

The goal, she said, is to imprint a product on a customer's mental menu.

"When you want to get a bacon cheeseburger, you head to Wendy's," she said. Never mind that you could get a bacon cheeseburger at Eat 'n Park or Denny's or Tessaro's or Ritter's Diner.

Of course, those places are selling them. Tonight at the Petersen Events Center, from 6:30 to 11:30, Wendy's is giving them away. (Here's the obligatory: "While supplies last.")

"There also will be free Frostys and some gift cards, T-shirts, and some chances to win prizes," Ms. Mannion said. "But mostly we're focused on Son of Baconator and Baconator and bacon and people's love of bacon and bacon-themed games. It's really an Ultimate Baconator Challenge, if you will. We're also encouraging students to log on to Facebook and Twitter and talk about bacon and Wendy's."

Which beats the heck out of talking about British literature and trigonometry.

Promotions of this type have been very successful for the all-powerful 18- to 24-year-old demographic. That's why Wendy's isn't the only one feeding the frenzy tonight. Jimmy John's also is providing free sandwiches, Silver Star Meats is handing out hot dogs and it all washes down with free Pepsi Next.

There is a downside.

"Because this is on the University of Pittsburgh campus, unfortunately, it is not open to the public," Ms. Mannion said.

"The students actually asked to do this," Tim Pederson, Pitt's associate director of marketing, said of the viewing party. "It's a large inflatable screen. It's pretty big. We did it two years ago, when we played Utah to open the season, and it was a really big success.

"We expect a really good turnout, anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000. But we do have security. We kind of bike-racked the area off and there are two entrances. You have to show your valid Pitt ID."

Have it your way. I'm lovin' it.

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