100 Days of Pop: Episode 28 Wendy's Makes a Tabletop RPG!?

The leaves are beginning to change, there’s a cold bite in the air & people are beginning to speak in broken old English accents, which can mean only one thing.  It’s RenFest season here in the midwest and in to help us jump into the season, Wendy’s has released their own D&D inspired tabletop game, Feasts of Legends! 

What, you’re not as giddy I am as about role playing as fantasy characters straight from the Wendy’s menu?  Like maybe the duel wielding Order of the Baconator! or maybe your more of an order of the frosty ice mage kinda gal, or, I get it you’re more stealth character like the small and tasty sly halfling like class of the order of the chicken nuggets? 

Yeah, ok, it’s funny, but Wendy’s Feasts of Legends: Rise from the Deep freeze is NO JOKE. 

On this episode of the Pop100 we are talking Wendy’s mashup with Tabletop gaming and no doubt I’m going to go completely fanboy on this idea but even if you aren’t into dungeons fantasy RPG tabletop gaming you’ll want to stay, as I will make the case that this seemingly strange mashup is an important idea for all of us marketers and brands to understand, because it’s a nat 20 roll of an example (that means really good in d&d talk) of how a brand should engage when they decide to play with popular culture. 

So grab your 12 sided die, roll for a wisdom check as we venture forth into the deliciously dangerous world of Feast of Legends: Rise from the Deep Freeze, where your party of adventurers battles the scourge of frozen beef patties and the evil jester king who threatens the honorable city of Freshtovia with his icy grip from the chilly depths of the Deep Freeze. 

To get into the mood, I took my family to the Kansas City Renfest, where I lost my 5-year-old to have her found by a Deadpool cosplayer and a very delightful wandering beer wench (She had a blast) and as drinks flowed, crowds chanted “Bloodshed” at a joust performance & the entire fair ran out of turkey legs before I could have one, which is why I go there, I began to think about Wendy’s and how they would never run out of spicy chicken sandwiches and how I would love an adventure with my friends safe in my own home which brings us to. 

Feast of Legends, a fully functioning D&D style tabletop game that was built from scratch from the folks at Wendys was released into our world last week corresponding with the New York Comic-Con through a book release party & a partnership with CriticalRole who played the game live on their twitch stream opening night, while 30,000 live viewers including myself slack-jawed in amazement that not only did they pulled this thing off, watching it played was so entertaining, I watched for 4 hours. 

Why I’m in love with this unholy union of brand and nerd culture shouldn’t be a surprise but why should you pay attention to it?  Because when you break it down, Wendys mastered 3 Pop-Marketing techniques that made this baby fly. 

Hands down, the most important lesson of all for brand and marketers wanting to participate within popular culture. We can no longer dip our toe in, especially fan culture. If you want to play in their world, you better be ready to commit and add something of value to the culture.  

If you are a stranger or even worse a marketer walking into a party of strangers, you best bring a case of beer to share. With Feasts of Legends, Wendys brought a keg. A fully functioning D&D game and campaign in the form of a downloadable pdf that came in at 97 pages!. And there is zero about this that is not legitimate. The game plays and though it doesn’t take itself seriously, it is a true and honest homage to classic D&D.

Wendys follows my hard & fast rule when it comes to creating anything in pop-marketing and that is to make it better than anyone thinks it should be. Craft is a sign of respect. It ADDs to the culture and this game and book is absolutely beautiful from the illustration to the writing, this rivals the craft of an actual D&D gamebook which is known for extremely high standards of both. Craft proves that you aren’t there just to steal nerd share of profit from Burger King to improve the frequency of store visits with millennial men ages 18-24...which you most definitely are, but I think we’d be surprised how most fans are cool with that as long as you aren’t coming empty-handed. 

And a small side note here. Yes, this launch was timed to correspond with the New York Comic Con but the experience did not live there, the launch was built to scale. The PDF was available online immediately for all to play and the game was played live online for EVERYONE to watch and engage in. The magic isn’t in the activation at the event but how you amplify and resonate that experience to the 99.9% of fans that aren’t at the actual event. 

You could be thinking, yes Joe the book is awesome, but it’s such a small niche, how is this considered marketing at scale when you’re talking to 89 guys in their parent’s basement? 

Which conveniently brings up another Pop-Marketing technique that Wendy’s mastered with Feast of Legends. You see, The art of pop-marketing is not identifying what is currently in popular culture, but what is on the edges. What is there and nobody has noticed?  A pop-Marketer doesn’t live inside of popular culture but in the suburbs, hedging bets on what’s next or what hasn’t been noticed. 

Tabletop gaming is a perfect example. Logic would say that video games and mobile games had completely decimated this market but In 2017 tabletop and board gaming was a $7 billion dollar market and is projected to grow to $12 billion by 2023. Yeah, tabletop gaming is bigger than ever and a tabletop gaming renaissance has been taking place right under our noses. 

And no it’s not because Stranger Things, this community and trend have been growing steadily for years. The lightning rod was the connectivity of the internet and specifically the rise of youtube and podcast content.  Tabletop RPGs like D&D’s biggest barriers to entry was always access. Access & Entry to how to play a very complex tabletop game that’s very different from Monopoly and connecting with others that want to play too. So when the internet took away that barrier, D&D not only grew to 5.5 million players but D&D gaming live-streaming turned into a spectator sport. Doubling or tripling the potential fanbase. 

Part of Wendy’s idea to promote the launch was to partner with one of these groups, the popular streaming D&D show, Critical Role. a group of voice actor friends that got together in 2015 and started playing D&D together live on the web and now 4 years later have helped bring the D&D into the mainstream. Their audience is global and big. Just earlier this year after being laughed out of Netflix, Hulu & Amazon offices while pitching a cartoon series based on their first campaign, they went on Kickstarter and broke the record for the most raised cash during a campaign on the platform with their fan base raising $11 million to produce the animated series. What? Even further proof that modern tabletop had a powerful following that nobody had yet tapped into. 

And lastly, it was a First.  Yeah, it’s the first time that a brand has built a fully functioning, totally playable tabletop role-playing game. Firsts matter in pop-marketing because if you are wanting PR and buzz, (and you do) journalists want new...it’s kind of why it’s called the news. Journalists know that our brains are hard-wired to engage and pay attention to new combinations, new ideas and those are the ideas that get written about. But don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that PR is valuable on its own and write this down. PR and earned media in Pop-Marketing only counts if it supports your positioning and your main message or differentiator of your product.  Fresh Never Frozen is Wendy’s and it’s the core of everything they do no matter if it’s in a TV add, a Fortnite partnership or if they’re writing their own D&D book. 

Well done by the team at VMLY&R that pulled this off, KC pride and for Wendys for continuing to trust your team to take you into new territory, but it’s Wendys who gets it. In an economy of attention, boring is expensive. This is very exciting for the Wendy’s brand because I feel like it takes the genius voice of Wendy’s on Twitter a pathway to scale and become more connected to the brand itself.  

Follow me and subscribe on the social media, signup to my Pop-Marketing email list to get the latest and greatest brand adventures in the world of Pop Culture and go get that Spirit Halloween Wizard hat on, throw on that old terry cloth robe and play Feast of Legends with some friends and tell me in comments what you think!  Fare thee well adventurers may your days be long and nights be shorter than...hazzah! 

Joe Cox