Is the reign of the perpetually adolescent sex-obsessed male over? It is, in the eyes of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. The company unveiled a new ad strategy this week that literally pushes that guy (i.e., Carl Jr.) out of the office and does away with all those hot girls eating burgers in their bikinis. The fast food chain’s shift is one of several rebranding efforts that challenge the notion that sex, and only sex, sells.
“It was time to evolve,” Jason Norcross, the executive creative director of ad agency 72andSunny, told AdWeek of the new campaign. “Some of the product attributes got lost because people were too busy ogling girls.”
For the past 15 years, Carl’s Jr. (Hardee’s on the East Coast), whose parent company is CKE Restaurants, has been famous for the incongruous commercials showing the likes of Paris Hilton, Kate Upton, and Kim Kardashian biting into giant burgers without worrying about getting grease on their designer outfits or bloating their multimillion-dollar abs.
“We believe in putting hot models in our commercials, because ugly ones don’t sell burgers,” CKE CEO Andrew Puzder said in a 2011 press release. “We target hungry guys, and we get young kids that want to be young hungry guys.”
Puzder, who was nominated to be Donald Trump’s secretary of labor before he withdrew his name, will be replaced at CKE next month by a new CEO. Still, in an interview with USA Today, Puzder framed this new campaign as part of an effort to focus “more directly and convincingly” on the quality and taste of the restaurants’ food, not just a changing of the guard. This is, after all, the same week that McDonald’s announced it will soon make all its burgers with “fresh” beef.
The new guard is embodied in the fictional character of Carl Hardee Sr., played in the ads by Nashville‘s Charles Esten, styled to look like a folksier version of the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World.” As he takes over from his slacker millennial son (Drew Tarver), he talks up the brand’s pioneering history.
This follows other companies pivoting away from their sexy images in an effort to attract broader, more sophisticated buyers. Playboy stopped running nude photos last year and placed greater emphasis on its articles. Abercrombie and Fitch’s latest campaigns have been completely devoid of midriffs to embrace a more inclusive spirit. Neither one of those efforts has proven successful, however. Playboy announced in February that it was rescinding the no-nudes stance and put out a March/April issue with the headline “Naked is normal.” Abercrombie’s sales were already dropping, and this shift seems to have done nothing to help matters.
Will Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s have better luck? “There’s a risk in alienating their old base, because people interested in edgy commercials and edgy branding may not be interested in the new branding,” Ernest Baskin, assistant professor of food marketing at St. Joseph University, told USA Today.
See for yourself if this makes you hungry for burger:
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