Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Memory Bank: Where's the Beef? (January 1984)

Twenty-nine years ago this month, eighty-one year old Clara Peller (1902 – 1987) first uttered the immortal words “where’s the beef?” for a Wendy’s Restaurant TV commercial, and instantly emerged a pop culture sensation. 

In the advertisement titled “Fluffy Bun,” which first aired January 10, 1984, the diminutive Peller and two other prim-and-proper old ladies approached a fast food restaurant counter and expressed disappointment with the proffered burger.  It was all hat and no cattle, so-to-speak.

The zinger, “Where’s the Beef?” proved so popular that it became the focal point not only of the restaurant’s ad campaign for at least two years, but also made Peller a celebrity.  She appeared (un-credited) on Saturday Night Live, appeared in the 1985 horror movie The Stuff (in a fictional commercial, naturally) and participated with Coyote McCloud on his single “Where’s the Beef?”  

Her slogan, meanwhile, appeared on T-shirts, Frisbees, and bumper stickers.  I remember the era quite well, and how "where's the beef" became ubiquitous even in regular, daily life.  Teachers would ask it regarding a book report in class, and on and on.

In the 1984 presidential election, “where’s the beef” also played an unlikely role. Confronting opponent Gary Hart in a primary debate, democratic candidate Walter Mondale quipped: “When I hear your new ideas, I’m reminded of that ad: where’s the beef?”


Clara Peller passed away in 1987, but Wendy’s revived a variation of the slogan  in 2011. 

But it just isn't the same without that little old lady. Perhaps this is proof that you just can't go home again.  

Or that zippy TV catchphrases are best uttered by gravelly-voiced old women in pearls... 

1 comment:

  1. Was there not also originally a companion ad that featured three old men with the same slogan? They just didn't catch on as Pell did?