Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s are known for their use of pop-culture icons in their advertising, so casting Kate Upton as their latest spokeswoman in the campaign for the Southwest Patty Melt was seen as a continuation of that strategy. However, Upton was signed and the ads filmed before the brands, or Kate herself, knew that she would be chosen as the 2012 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover model.
That announcement, made less than two weeks after the commercials were shot, exponentially propelled interest in all things related to Upton, including her Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s ads. Media coverage and online views of the commercials and other related content have generated more than a half a billion impressions worldwide, and that figure continues to grow.
The commercial, titled Drive-In, is a spicy twist on a classic–a classic drive-in setting, featuring a classic All-American girl eating a classic Patty Melt heated up with the Southwestern flavors of jalapeños, pepper-Jack cheese, and Santa Fe sauce.
The ad was filmed near downtown L.A. on the night of Jan. 31 and early morning of Feb. 1, nearly two weeks before the announcement of Kate’s selection as the 2012 cover girl on “Late Night with David Letterman.”
“For two moderate-sized, regional fast-food chains, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s have established a pretty amazing track record over the years of working with celebrities who are just hitting their pop culture zeniths when they appear in our advertising, and some would even go so far as to say that our ads helped propel them there,” says Brad Haley, chief marketing officer for Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s.
“But, our timing with Kate Upton, unquestionably, tops them all. From Paris Hilton to Kim Kardashian, our ads often achieve iconic status thanks to the huge public interest in our stars as well as the way we portray them on film.
“With Kate, we knew she was a hot young model and was, after all, Rookie of the Year in last year’s swimsuit issue, but we didn’t know that she would be on the cover this year when we filmed her. Her meteoric rise, once the cover of SI was announced, has made everything she touches something that our target of young, hungry guys has to get their hands on, including the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s Southwest Patty Melt she so clearly enjoys in the commercial.”
Previous campaigns featuring Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, and Padma Lakshmi each generated a great deal of pop-culture buzz, but they have now been eclipsed by the success of Kate Upton’s campaign. Media coverage of Kate’s participation in the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s ad for the Southwest Patty Melt currently stands at 627 million impressions.
The online-only :60 director’s cut  of the ad has been viewed more than 3.6 million times. The :30 Drive-In spot  and two behind-the-scenes videos bring the total views to nearly 4.5 million. Fans in 220 different countries around the globe have watched the various videos.
“We just want to thank Kate for all that she has achieved with us and we wish her well in her career, which we expect to be a long and successful one given her talent, looks, and charm,” Haley says. “Kudos also to our advertising agency, 72andSunny, for creating such a memorable ad with Kate.”
Media coverage about Kate’s commercial and the Southwest Patty Melt has ranged from FOX News and People magazine to USA Today and, of course, SI.com.
In a post on Forbes.com , research conducted by BrandIndex shows that Kate Upton has made quite an impression on 18-to-34-year-old males. According to BrandIndex, Hardee’s saw a 24-point jump in impression score for the brand among that group. BrandIndex is a national research firm that tracks consumer perception of brands.
"This has been such a fun and exciting time for me,” says Upton, who is represented by IMG Models. "I'm so excited that my Carl’s Jr. and Hardee's commercial has been received so well. I had a blast shooting it and I'm thrilled to see it has more than four million views now."
The 60-second version of the ad took the top spot on the Ad Age Viral Video Chart on March 8, and was at No. 10 the following week.
Other stats to consider:
- More than 120,000 new Facebook fans for Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s since the ad launched
- 104 percent increase in site visits over the previous week to Hardees.com brand site after the :60 Director’s cut video was posted
- 83 percent increase in visits over the previous week to Carlsjr.com brand site after the :60 Director’s cut video was posted
- More than 5,000 tweets have mentioned the product, Kate @KateUpton, the ad and the brands @CarlsJr and @Hardees
- Those 5,000 tweets reached more than 12.4 million Twitter followers and had a 94 percent approval rating
And, it wouldn’t be a successful ad campaign if there weren’t parodies of the spot. Hulk Hogan and a half-dozen lesser-known characters have posted YouTube parodies. Even Jay Leno got into the act, featuring Kate in the Drive-In ad in a send-up on the Tonight Show.