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Meet the Professor: Dan Dahlen

Thursday, October 8 2015 12:00am

What do Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef” campaign, Ohio University, and football have in common? College of Business Professor Dan Dahlen

By Brianna Wilson

20151007 Cob Dahlen Dan 0248JapProfessor Dahlen has only been teaching at the College of Business a year – but he’s been in the advertising business for more than 40.

What has he learned during that time? How to put the most compelling selling messages in front of the largest number of people for the least possible cost. “That’s what I used to do, and now, it’s what I teach,” he said. 

Strolling down Dahlen’s memory lane can be intimidating – he was integral to Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef” campaign in 1984. And it’s fascinating to hear Dahlen talk about the inner workings of campaigns that are arguably the most successful restaurant advertising campaigns ever.

Rewind to 1983. Dahlen was vice president, national advertising for Wendy’s International, Inc. After wrapping up a successful year, Dahlen and team were focused on the never-ending marketing question: What’s next? They dove into the research to learn how consumers choose where to purchase their burgers. Tenth on the list was patty size.

“Wendy’s single burger had more beef than the Big Mac and the Whopper,” said Dahlen. “So we thought, patty size may not be that important to the consumer now – but maybe we can make it important.”

Dahlen and team gave their ad agency one sentence of direction: “Some hamburger restaurants camouflage their small burgers with big names.” Shortly thereafter, the “Where’s the Beef” campaign was born. 

With a clearly successful career, what attracted Dahlen to academia? He’d always been interested in becoming a professor, but his passion for advertising took precedence. As he became more successful in the advertising world, Dahlen was asked to speak at the College about his industry experience. After a few speaking engagements, he knew he wanted to share his insights and experience with students. A short time later, he returned to his alma mater – not only as a guest speaker, but as a professor and director of the Consumer Research Center.

“It’s my way of continuing to practice what I do best, while I give back to a place that had such a profound impact on my life and career,” he said.

With that, the OHIO alumni came back full circle, from student to industry professional to professor.

- Potpourri –

Five pressing questions for Dahlen

Do you have a favorite place to eat in Athens or on campus?

“Believe it or not, China Panda. My wife and I have lived in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City…we’re always trying to find the best Chinese in town, and here it’s China Panda, hands down.”

Do you have a favorite spot on Ohio University’s campus?

“Ping Recreation Center. I look forward to going there every day. I typically run into a few students of mine, and it’s a nice atmosphere to have a casual chat.” 

Which season do you like best in Athens?

“Fall. I’m from Columbus, so I’m used to four seasons. The colors and trees in Athens are just spectacular.”

What events have you enjoyed in Athens?

“The football games. I’m a former OHIO player. I was passionate about playing the game, and now I’m passionate about watching it.”

What have you liked most about working with students and faculty at Ohio University’s College of Business?

“I love the students’ curiosity, willingness to learn, and their appetite for learning about what it’s like in the real world. Since I’m new to higher education, faculty have been extremely helpful in teaching me about the role of a college professor – how to do it right, tips and techniques about how to be successful. Everyone has been extremely accommodating and supportive.”