Carl’s Jr. Reviews Creative Business, Splitting From Sister Brand Hardee’s

Burger chain seeks 'unique storyline'

Satirist Celeste Barber starred in Carl
Satirist Celeste Barber starred in the company's latest campaign. YouTube
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

Less than a year after launching its first campaign from then-new agency partner Havas, Carl’s Jr. has again placed its creative advertising business in review.

A spokesperson for parent company CKE, which owns Carl’s Jr. and sister brand Hardee’s in addition to the Green Burrito and Red Burrito restaurants, positioned the review as an attempt to establish more distinct identities for the two burger chains.

“As part of our strategy to separate Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, we are currently conducting an agency review for Carl’s Jr. that is being managed by SRI [Select Resources International],” the representative wrote. “Our goal is for each brand to have its own unique storyline, both impossible to ignore.”

The latest review follows a series of reinventions for a brand once known for famously sexualized ads starring Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and others.

Carl’s Jr.’s marketing strategy took a 180-degree turn in 2017 after then-CEO Andy Puzder acknowledged that such spots no longer had the same impact. “You can get sex on the internet,” he told Fox Business Network. “You don’t need a Carl’s Jr. or Hardee’s ad.”

The company then embraced a “food, not boobs” approach and briefly introduced a new senior character, Carl Hardee Sr., who made a show of trashing earlier campaigns that he blamed on his millennial son.

After a review excluding longtime AOR 72andSunny, Havas took over the account and launched a series of visually stimulating, product-focused ads narrated by Matthew McConaughey. In its most recent reinvention, the brand ran a spot by Havas starring Instagram satirist Celeste Barber, who mocked the ads run years earlier.

Other recent changes in the brand’s identity include a deal with Beyond Meat to sell that company’s plant-based burger in more than 1,100 locations, making CKE the largest U.S. restaurant distributor of the product line.

As this transition occurred, CKE global chief marketing officer Jeff Jenkins, formerly with Whole Foods and Taco Bell, spearheaded the effort to make Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s into distinct brands. (The two are primarily separated by geography, with the former in the west and southwest United States and the latter in the east and southeast.)

CKE promoted Jenkins to global chief digital officer late last year.

A change in the company’s agency roster occurred around this time as well, with Havas sister agency Arnold taking over lead creative duties for Hardee’s. “Arnold is the agency of record for Hardee’s, and we are excited to continue our strong work together,” said the client spokesperson.

CKE also reviewed its public relations business last year, choosing LaForce of New York. IPG’s Initiative remains the company’s media agency of record.

According to parties close to the matter, the creative review has already come down to five finalists including Arnold. A Havas spokesperson declined to comment and deferred to the client. SRI did not return calls seeking comment.

The latest numbers from Kantar Media have Carl’s Jr. spending just under $78 million in paid media in the U.S. in 2017 and $50 million in the first nine months of 2018, a drop from the previous year’s totals.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.
Publish date: January 25, 2019 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT