October 7, 2007
Wendy's Watermark: Experiment or Error?

You know we are in a phase of experimental marketing when audiences start debating whether or not something was meant to be an advertisement, or whether it was just an error.

The debate, of course, can be good or bad: when an ad runs consecutively, back-to-back, I've often found that it annoys consumers, at least from anecdotal evidence of hearing others talk when it happens, or conversations I've seen take place online. But I saw a new one a little while back.

I was reminded of it when I was going back to watch parts of a wrestling show from the end of August. It was Friday Night Smackdown, World Wrestling Entertainment's show on the CW Network, for Aug. 31. When the show first came on, I noticed something peculiar every time there was a black screen: a Wendy's watermark.

I watched more closely by rewinding and fast-forwarding, and I soon realized that the very faint Wendy's watermark was on the corner of the screen throughout the episode? At first, I thought maybe it was a WWE/CW advertising deal with Wendy's, although I wasn't sure whether or not this would get annoying for consumers, so I searched it out.

The only reference I found was from a wrestling fan board, located at a site called The W. Poster Alessandro writes, "Did this happen to anyone else? Throughout the entire broadcast, there was a transparent 'watermark' of the Wendy's logo in the bottom lefthand corner of the screen. Just a glitch with our local CW network, or subliminal advertising?" Alessandro identifies himself/herself as from Worcester, Mass.

The only person to respond was another user from Fitchburg, Mass. Since I saw it from the same source they did, I am assuming that this just occurred on our feed of Smackdown and that it wasn't a national event. I've never seen any more about this, and I could never figure out if it just happened for the duration of Friday Night Smackdown or if it extended otherwise, whether it was a mistake on CW56's part or some advertising deal.

I know that various advertising watermarks are a regular part of Web videos, especially when repurposing content from other sources. On the other hand, broadcast television usually only uses watermarks for the network logo, while promotions of upcoming shows are done through pop-ups. Advertising usually doesn't appear on the screen this way. If readers come by who might happen to know more about the phantom Wendy's watermark, or who might know of other instances of brand logo watermarks appearing during television shows, let us know.

For everyone else, is an advertising watermark an interesting and unobtrusive alternative form of advertising, or is it too disconcerting to have the show "branded" quite literally? For fans who are archivists, as I was obviously doing with this episode of Smackdown, it is a little frustrating to deal with an advertising watermark during the show, even if it is barely visible except when that portion of the screen is black. Whether this was a mistake or an experiment, I have my doubts whether this will be a form of advertising that catches on should it be tried in the future, especially with the quite large size of the Wendy's logo in this instance.