Hamburger Job Lost After Spaghetti Sauce Commercial : Wendy's Has a Beef With Clara

Times Staff Writer

A beef over spaghetti sauce led Wendy's International Inc. on Friday to drop Clara Peller, the diminutive, 80-ish lady with the gravelly voice who made the hamburger chain's "Where's the beef?" slogan an overnight advertising sensation.

Dublin, Ohio-based Wendy's said it ended negotiations for a new three-year contract with Peller because of her appearance in a TV commercial for Campbell Soup Co.'s Prego Plus Spaghetti Sauce with ground beef sirloin and fresh onions. In the commercial, Peller implies that she has found the beef in the sauce.

"Clara can only find the beef at one place: Wendy's," said a spokesman for the company, which holds a trademark on the "Where's the beef?" phrase. "If she is finding the beef at Wendy's and in the spaghetti sauce and somewhere else, it gets very confusing" for consumers, he explained.

In a statement issued in Chicago by her attorneys, Peller said: "I'm sorry that the company that I worked so hard for does not want to use me in commercials anymore, but I plan to keep working for other people who appreciate what I can do."

In the Prego commercial, devised by the New York agency of Leber Katz Partners, Peller never actually mentions the word beef. She appears sitting in a big easy chair, saying, "I found it." An announcer variously describes the sauce as having "real beef" and "lots of beef" as it is poured over pasta. At other times in the ad, Peller says, "I really found it" and "I finally found it."

At the commercial's close, Peller, shown with a gigantic bottle of the sauce, says, "Boy, did I find it."

Initially, the spokesman said, Wendy's had no problem with Peller's doing the commercial because it was not for a competing hamburger chain. But that was before Wendy's executives viewed and analyzed the ad.

"We're very regretful, but we're not doing this out of spite or anger," the spokesman said. Wendy's paid Peller more than $500,000 in 1984 to appear in commercials, promotions and personal appearances.

The proposed three-year contract would have included a six-figure payment for each year, according to the Wendy's spokesman.

Peller said she found the timing of Wendy's announcement "suspicious," since her lawyers were in negotiations with the company over what she claimed was the company's unauthorized use of her name.

Her statement added: "Wendy's charge that I am no longer credible because I found beef in Prego spaghetti sauce is what is not credible. . . . This is a smoke screen to avoid a lawsuit. . . . It's a cruel trick to play on someone who has helped bring millions of dollars to the company."

In 1984, Wendy's revenue rose 31% and profits were up 24% over the previous year.

Peller last appeared in a Wendy's commercial in November. The "Where's the beef?" campaign was created by Dancer Fitzgerald Sample in New York. Wendy's said it will continue with its current campaign, which does not feature Peller.

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