Where’s the Beef?

Clara Peller

Where’s the beef?” is a catchphrase in the United States and Canada. The phrase originated as a slogan for the fast food chain Wendy’s. Since then it has become an all-purpose phrase questioning the substance of an idea, event or product.

The phrase first came to public attention in a television commercial for the Wendy’s in 1984. In reality, the strategy behind the campaign was to distinguish competitors (McDonald’s and Burger King) big name sandwiches (Big Mac and Whopper respectively) from Wendy’s ‘modest’ Single by focusing on the large bun used by the competitors and the larger beef patty in Wendy’s sandwich. In the ad, titled ‘Fluffy Bun,’ actress Clara Peller receives a burger with a massive bun from a fictional competitor, which uses the slogan ‘Home of the Big Bun.’ The small patty prompts Peller to angrily exclaim, ‘Where’s the beef?’

Sequels featured Peller yelling at a Fluffy Bun executive from his yacht over the phone and approaching fast food drive-up windows (including the ‘Home of the Big Bun’ and one with a golden arch) that were slammed down before she could complete the line. The advertising campaign ended in 1985 after Peller performed in a commercial for Prego pasta sauce, saying that she ‘finally found’ the beef.

There were many ‘Where’s the beef?’ promotional items, including bumper stickers, frisbees, clothing patches, and a Milton Bradley game. According to an A&E biography, ‘Where’s the beef?’ was actually an error by Peller who was supposed to say ‘Where’s all the beef?’ but the error was kept in.

The phrase became associated with the 1984 US presidential election. During primaries in the spring of 1984, when the commercial was at its height of popularity, Democratic candidate and former Vice President Walter Mondale used the phrase to sum up his arguments that program policies championed by his rival, Senator Gary Hart, were insubstantial, beginning with a March 11, 1984 televised debate prior to the New York and Pennsylvania primaries.

Hart had moved his candidacy from dark horse to the lead over Mondale based on allegedly superficial similarities to John F. Kennedy, and his repeated use of the phrase ‘new ideas.’ When Hart once again used the slogan in the debate, Mondale leaned forward and said, ‘When I hear your new ideas, I’m reminded of that ad, ‘Where’s the beef?” Subsequently, the two campaigns continually clashed using the two dueling slogans, Hart frequently showing reams of policy papers and retorting ‘Here’s the beef.’ Mondale’s strategy succeeded in casting doubt on Hart’s new ideas, and changing the debate to specific details, earning him the Democratic nomination.

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