Industry News | March 29, 2017 | By Alex Dixon | QSR Exclusive Brief

A Bold New Era Begins at Carl's Jr. and Hardee's

CKE Restaurants/Fab Fernandez
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Turning away from racy ads that have drawn criticisms as being offensive and objectifying, Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. are putting the focus on food in a new campaign.

In spots declaring the chains “Pioneers of the Great American Burger,” parent company CKE highlights food items and practices that it believes sets it apart in an increasingly competitive burger segment.

“Our target before and our target still is what we call young, hungry guys. They’re 18-to-34 year-old men. Over time, the demographics and the psychographics in that group have evolved and that group is, among many other things, more concerned about what’s in their food, where it came from, how clean it is, etc.,” says CKE Restaurants CMO Brad Haley. “But we’re not apologetic about the direction of the old campaign. It was very effective. It was certainly attention getting. It helped make eating a fast food burger seem sexy and that’s not a very easy to thing to do.”

In one of the ads, set at Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s headquarters, a fictional Carl Hardee Sr. returns to take back the chain from his sophomoric son, who has taken the brand in a direction of suggestive advertising and a slack environment. Hardee Sr. takes the viewer on a flashback on the brand’s history, highlighting the its introduction of charbroiling, delivering food to the customer at the table, using all natural beef in burgers, and bringing bacon to “damn near everything.”

“This is what I’ve been talking about: food not boobs,” Hardee Jr. says following the flashback.

The campaign comes about a week after former labor secretary pick Andy Puzder stepped down as CEO of CKE, though Haley says there isn’t a correlation and the new campaign has been in the works for at least six months.

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As part of the new initiative, Hardee’s has a modernized logo; new food photography for menu boards, billboards, product imagery, and promotions; and new product packaging.

Haley says there are three things that led CKE to begin this initiative: promoting products that it thinks sets it apart in the quick-serve segment, highlighting quality in the price wars that have broken out between brands offering bundled meals, and reaching out to ‘better burger’ customers.

“The insights we learned was that our consumers just didn’t know about those things,” Haley says. “We’ve always competed at the high-end of quality and price in the quick-serve hamburger space. Over the last decade, the better burger players cumulatively have come to represent the equivalent of another mid-size hamburger (quick-serve) chain entering the marketplace. In many cases, all these things that we do in our restaurants are as good or better than what a better burger place delivers, but those customers don’t know, so this was an opportunity to speak to them, too.”