Thanks to an imaginative TV commercial producer and one unassuming elderly woman, Wendy’s got a winning ad campaign. Clara Peller, a manicurist by trade, met fate right smack dab at the right time. She lived in Chicago, where she’d worked for many years in her role.
An assistant to producer Joe Sedelmeier was given the task of finding a manicurist. Sedelmeier was working on filming a commercial at a Chicago barber shop. No one immediately thought about having one present. Well, the assistant soon came back to the shop with Peller in tow.
Sedelmeier was immediately impressed by Peller. She charmed him a lot. Once the barber shop ad was done, Peller went on her merry way. Sedelmeier, though, was working with a writer about a new advertising commercial. This one was for Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers.
Clara Peller Delivers Winning Ad Saying
When it came time to get people for the commercial, they figured this would be a good place for Peller. It turned out that, in 1984, they hit a grand slam. In the Wendy’s ad, there are three elderly women standing side by side. One woman is admiring the hamburger before her. The other two are looking on.
Peller finally pipes up and asks, “Where’s the beef?” That one phrase, along with Peller’s delivery of it, caught fire across America.
A couple of things to note as this advertisement celebrates its 40-year anniversary. Because of Peller’s emphysema, her lines were short. She also had lost some of her hearing, so an assistant pulled on her skirt. That gave Peller her signal to speak, according to Remind Magazine.
Clara would go on and find other commercial work. She even did a commercial for Prego Plus spaghetti sauce. In the ad, Peller said that she’d found what she had been looking for for a long time.
Well, Wendy’s didn’t feel so hip about Peller’s new ad. They issued a statement, saying, “Clara can find the beef only in one place, and that’s Wendy’s.”
She Enjoyed Success Before Her Death
Peller didn’t hurt for work, though. She ended up getting a lot of TV and media appearances. Sadly, Peller died of congestive heart failure in 1987. But her moment of fame has not been forgotten. People may hear others who were alive when the ad was hot say the catchphrase. It’s become a part of American lore, a catchphrase for the ages.
It was due to the work of Sedelmeier and his writer that produced the phrase. Years after Peller’s death, Marlene Necheles, her daughter, wrote a book in 2010 titled Clara Peller: An American Icon.
If you doubt how popular Peller’s catchphrase was, remember this. Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale used it in his 1984 campaign. That phrase showed up in a lot of different merchandise. It became a punchline for Johnny Carson to use in his monologue.
Sales at Wendy’s across America went up due to the ad campaign. Peller was a superstar. She got to enjoy it all in the final years of her life.
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