The Wendy’s Co. said its “Pretzel Love Songs” social media campaign was a success second only to its iconic “Where’s the Beef?” ads from 30 years ago, which may provoke the same level of skepticism shown by Clara Peller in those commercials. However, the latest numbers support the claim.

According to a report from Wendy’s and Facebook, the four humorous videos that promoted the chain’s successful limited-time offer Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger reached 85 million people — meaning viewers, not just total views. Seventy-five percent of those impressions came on Facebook’s mobile platform during the campaign’s five-week run last July and August.

Wendy’s officials conceded that the videos for “Pretzel Love Songs” had a high production value and featured a high-profile personality in singer Nick Lachey, but said the true key to the campaign’s success is that it sprang from current social media trends, including the dominance of mobile over desktop, the popularity of video, and a brand voice that is far more conversational than it is promotional.

“It can’t just be about, ‘how much money do I have to spend to break through,’” said Brandon Rhoten, Wendy’s vice president of digital and social media. “It’s about the content, and it has to fit the environment contextually. The test of a good ad is: do you want to see it again? That’s more true than ever on a network like Facebook, where you can click that X on the ad and never see that brand’s content ever again.”

‘I Love the ’90s’

Wendy’s “Pretzel Love Songs” featured several videos around a musician singing cheesy pop songs with a distinctly “MTV in the ’90s” feel, using lyrics taken verbatim from tweets and Facebook posts of people gushing about how much they loved the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger when they encountered it in a test market. The campaign built to a climax of Nick Lachey, lead singer of ’90s boy band 98 Degrees, starring in the final video and making several public appearances for Wendy’s.

Wendy’s took a similar tack with subsequent Facebook campaigns, including “Pretzel Love Stories” for the Pretzel Pub Chicken sandwich in October 2013, and a parody of British theater last November to promote the Bacon Portabella Melt. In each case, Rhoten said, the videos worked because they were the kind of humorous content guests expect, or at least don’t mind, in their Facebook feeds.

“The primary reason why we grow is because we talk like a friend would,” Rhoten said. “We don’t speak like a 15-second TV spot, because those are interruptive and don’t fit the environment they’re in. When we make a goofy video about love for a cheeseburger, that’s the kind of content your friends send to you if they’re the ones sending you ‘What Does the Fox Say?’”

Wendy’s was the first restaurant brand to develop a campaign with Facebook through the social network’s Publishing Garage, a boot-camp-style idea-generation session involving the brand, its agency partners and Facebook.

Ben Nemo, Facebook’s business lead for the restaurant vertical and a former marketing executive with Burger King, said Wendy’s achieved its breakthrough with the campaign for Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger because it understood the value of “frequent, lightweight conversations” with fans that laid the groundwork for people to expect content that was engaging, not just sporadic and solely promotional.

“Back in 2012, you probably saw a lot of what you’d see in a restaurant on Facebook,” Nemo said. “You might have seen something that looked like a table tent. You’re not expecting to see table tents from your friends. … That kind of everyday conversation buys you the trust, so when you want to go sell a new Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger and tell the world about it, you get the reaction.”