The hype machine turns a one-off into a roll-out

July 23, 2009 by Dave Haynes

I am, through my company, at least a little bit in the press release game these days, so I have a particular interest in how announcements get covered and how little things can be made to look very big.

Consider the case of WAND Corporation, a Minnesota company focused on the QSR technology market, which issued a press release the other day that got, for whatever reason, a lot of news, blog and Twitter action on Wednesday. To the casual observer, it looked very much like WAND had bagged a deal to start doing digital menu boards in Canada for Wendy’s.

Digital Menu Board leader and Point Of Sale software trend-setter WAND Corporation announced today the deployment of WANDisplay Digital Menu Boards in Canada. Memsbury, Co. LTD, a Wendy’s franchise located in Ontario, Canada, has deployed WAND Digital Menu Boards in their new Wendy’s site. In addition, the WAND Creative Group was tapped to develop the unique menu board content for the Canadian market, reads the press release from WAND.

There are photos, and it looks like a pretty nice install and something the burger chain would be very happy to roll out.

BUT … in what seems like the ongoing frenzy to just get stuff out there, and regurgitate whatever the press release sorta, kinda said, nobody really stopped to ask what this thing really is. And what it is, is not a rollout. It’s not a corporate initiative. It’s one store from one franchisee in St. Catharine’s, Ontario, about 10 minutes west of Niagara Falls.  

It definitely doesn’t sync up with this headline: 

Canadian Wendy’s franchises deploy digital menu boards 

WAND isn’t actually saying it’s a rollout – the company is just saying it’s a deployment in Canada. And WAND being “tapped” for the unique Canadian content means somebody had to develop something different up here because the stores are in a different country with different prices and maybe even menu items.

This is not a criticism of WAND, which was quick to respond to an email and confirmed the situation and noted the solution they have is in about 40 stores in the US, including a Wendy’s corporate site. The company does a lot of work with the fast food chain (POS in 1,600 stores) so is in a great position to do this work and win the larger business, should that come along at some point.

It’s also really nice to see a franchisee making the investment and seeing the potential, as many of us see digital boards as a natural evolution for QSR but are still waiting for the big chains to pull the trigger.

A little lost in the coverage was the description of sales of something called Frosty-Cinos being up 500 per cent at the digital menu-boarded stores over the franchisee’s other stores that don’t have the screens. That’s a pretty compelling story, if sustained. I always worry a little about how firm numbers are when they are rounded off like that, but clearly these boards were making people buy more iced coffee things around there during a summer that has barely been what you’d call hot.

My only real note here is that one of the big problems this young industry faces is that there is too much hype and too much eagerness to feed the buzz with more buzz, without any filtering. Hype gets people overly excited and misled, and also pulls in a lot of people into the space with visions of quick money. Anybody who’s been around a while knows this sector is just as tough to prosper in than pretty much any other line of business.

There’s actually a nice little story here about what looks like a well-executed solution from a company that maybe, maybe puffed up the story a little bit, and a franchisee who was willing to drop the money and take a risk, and is seeing the benefits of media technology.

But I’m guessing most people who saw the stories, posts and Tweets on Wednesday had a quick look and concluded some POS company from Minnesota is rolling out digital menu boards in Wendy’s stores across Canada.  Let’s all just slow down a little and have a second read when some of these things come out, and put the stories in the right context.

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