Wendy’s showcased virtual reality, augmented reality and interactive gaming experiences across an array of ad formats and placements to promote its sponsorship of NCAA March Madness, and saw a 9.1 point lift in ad recall.

Quick-service restaurant chain

Founded in 1969, Wendy's is best known for its square-sized, fresh-beef hamburger patties. Today, Wendy's and its franchisees employ hundreds of thousands of people across approximately 7,000 restaurants worldwide. Wendy’s is a sponsor of March Madness, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) college basketball championship tournaments.


lift in ad recall


lift in message association with March Madness via in-stream ads


lift in purchase intent via business-as-usual ads

52 million

people reached between March 13–April 30

Authentically engaging with consumers is important to us, so inviting them into our first virtual reality world, Wendyverse, was exciting! We’ll continue to operate Wendyverse with more worlds and new creator content this year in alignment with future brand offers. We’ll also maintain our business-as-usual campaigns to ensure we’re keeping an eye on the bottom line while also maintaining our status as an innovative brand.
Reaching more basketball fans

Wendy’s wanted to boost awareness of its sponsorship of March Madness, stir fan excitement about the upcoming tournament and increase in-store purchases, delivery orders and in-app sales.

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A multi-phase strategy

Always looking to innovate, Wendy’s wanted to create an imaginative and cohesive series of ads designed to capture attention and build relationships with March Madness fans, as well provide unique experiences for a broad spectrum of consumers.

Wendy’s partnered with its media agency Spark Foundry, creative agency VMLY&R and PR agency Ketchum to build out this bold campaign using a multi-phase strategy to strengthen brand awareness, brand consideration and sales by using the full array of ad formats and placements across Meta’s platforms. To ensure multiple customer touchpoints, the team blended its business-as-usual video ads with ads that used augmented reality (AR) filter effects, linked to interactive gaming experiences and showcased a futuristic new virtual reality (VR) world.

Wendy’s showed these ads to US adults aged 18-49, including fans of quick-service restaurants, gaming and sports, and used campaign budget optimization to automatically distribute the budget across the best-performing ad sets in real time.


A playful new world

Brand Awareness: Looking to create a sensation, the team partnered with Meta to launch the Wendyverse—a virtual Wendy’s restaurant available in Horizon Worlds, a free virtual reality, online video game developed and published by Meta Platforms.

Designed to highlight Wendy's as the “official breakfast” of March Madness, the Wendyverse offered an entry point for fans to venture into a new world designed exclusively for them. People with Meta Quest 2 devices could interact with new friends or play virtual basketball while enjoying a virtual Wendy’s breakfast sandwich.

To promote awareness of the Wendyverse, the team ran video ads in Facebook and Instagram feed, as well as via In-Stream Auction, showing avatars having fun in the virtual experience along with messaging that “Horizon Worlds is available now on Meta Quest 2.”

Consideration: The team commissioned two March Madness AR experiences: 1) an interactive ad in Instagram feed with AR camera filter effects, and 2) a video linking to a third-party gaming microsite with an interactive gaming experience. These two activations were meant to act as a more inclusive AR opportunity for people who didn't have a Meta Quest headset.

The ad on Instagram featured a half court “Wendy’s Breakfast ‘Shoot Your Shot’ Game.” The creative showed a guy “throwing” a ball over his shoulder towards a hoop, while a scoreboard kept score. To play the game, ad viewers tapped the “Try in Camera” button, which opened the camera on their mobile device and loaded the AR filter effects of the ball and hoop.

Conversion: The team built two video ads delivered in Facebook and Instagram feed, Stories and Reels that showed Wendy’s breakfast items for March Madness. The first ad included a call-to-action button that linked to a third-party delivery service’s app or website for ordering, while the second ad had an “Install Now” button to download Wendy’s mobile app to order food.

Wendy’s measured the results of the March 13–April 30, 2022 campaign using a brand lift study, reporting data in Ads Manager and a Horizon Worlds lift study, which revealed:

  • 9.1-point lift in ad recall
  • 2.9-point lift in message association with March Madness via in-stream ads
  • 2.9-point lift in purchase intent via business-as-usual ads
  • 52 million people reached between March 13‒April 30
  • 4.1-point lift in ad recall for the half-court shot AR ad/gaming microsite ad
  • 4.2-point lift in ad recall for video ads about Wendyverse
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Across the entire activation, we saw that people found the ads memorable, built an association between Wendy's and March Madness and increased their intent to purchase from the brand. The campaign reached 52 million people and brought the immersive Wendyverse and other VR/AR experiences in front of March Madness fans, which is the kind of scale we were looking to get.