Paris Hilton Ad Boosts Carl's Jr. Traffic

Server crashes generally are considered bad for business. So are angry protesters. But this week, a combination of the two might just be the best thing that ever happened to fast-food chain Carl's Jr.

Traffic this week soared at the site hosting a racy ad for the "Spicy Burger," starring celebrity heiress Paris Hilton, after reports trickled out over the weekend that public interest in the site was so great that the page crashed. Then, when the watchdog group Parents Television Council protested the ad, traffic surged even more.

Such a pattern isn't unexpected, said some industry observers. "People hate advertising because they're being forced to watch it," said Jupiter Research analyst Gary Stein. "But all of a sudden, if they're not allowed to watch it," he continued, it becomes irresistible. "Anything that you're told you're not allowed to see, you want."

In fact, Stein said, the server crash validated the too-hot reputation that the ad had built before its release. "They said 'It's way too hot to be on television.' That drew some people's attention, and it drew so much attention that the servers crashed," he said. "It helped to provide validity to that assertion that it's really extreme."

The site, www.SpicyParis.com, hosts a 60-second version of the 30-second spot the burger chain created to promote their new burger. The ad, produced by Los Angeles-based Mendelsohn/Zien, features Hilton in a bikini washing a Bentley, and then salaciously taking a bite of the burger. The site and the television ad campaign both launched on May 19--the television ad campaign being confined to Carl's Jr.'s markets in the West and Southwest--and the following afternoon, the site crashed as users overloaded the host sever with requests to view the video, a spokeswoman for Carl's Jr. said.

This week, the site's market share among other consumer food sites increased more than ninefold on May 24, making it the second-most-visited site in its category, behind Kraft Foods, according to research firm Hitwise. Carl's Jr.'s regular site, www.CarlsJr.com, also received a major boost from the ad; its market share grew almost sevenfold between May 19 and May 24, stated Hitwise.

comScore Media Metrix traffic numbers show that hits for the Spicy Paris site remained below 20,000 until May 24, when traffic shot up to 169,000 unique visitors--and then again on the 25th, to 309,000 unique visitors.

Weeks before the ad went live on the Net and began to air on TV, rumors circulated that it was too hot for TV, and that Carl's Jr. would be forced to pull the ad. But the buzz only really started to build after the servers hosting the site overloaded and crashed late last week, and early this week the Parents Television Council condemned the ad as "inappropriate for television," and planned to organize its members to ask the FCC to declare the ad indecent.

Pete Blackshaw, the co-founder of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and chief marketing officer for Intelliseek, added that the server problems the ad experienced did far more good than harm for the success of the campaign. "Online, these problems are good problems because it underscores demand--it was so popular it broke down the machine," he said. "It's like a badge of honor."

Blackshaw said that some agencies might take advantage of the buzz-building powers of server troubles to promote campaigns. "I would expect that some agencies take some liberties with these problems," he said. "I'm sure these agencies are high-fiving each other about the server problems."

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