Anti-retrosexuals, rejoice! We’ve got nothing to lose but the boobs on display in ads for the Hardee’s and Carl Jr’s food chains!
For CKE Restaurants, this reformation of its notorious ad campaign spotlights the naked, high-quality food, sans the parade of scantily clad, freakishly open-mouthed females.
It amounts to “Leave the cheesecake, take the beef.”
Or as the developmentally arrested, bad-seed son in the new spot puts it: “Food, not boobs.”
So far, the refocus has stimulated the kind of press coverage usually reserved for rogue Army generals seeking immunity.
That’s because it requires going over some recent advertising history, including the sea of hypersexual spots created by the brand, starting in 2005 with a Paris Hilton ad in which the young one walks on all fours, hoses down a Bentley and herself, and somehow still delivers the type of burger-munching never before associated with double-beef patties.
The same approach has served the outfit, on and off, through three different ad agencies, for the last 12 years.
That’s because the agencies were acting on the unified Andy Puzder theory. He was the CKE CEO who recently took himself out of the running for the Secretary of Labor post in the Trump administration after charges of domestic abuse and having an undocumented immigrant working in his home surfaced. (CKE workers also protested about racial, sexual, and age discrimination and illegal pay practices, but that’s another story.)
Anyway, in speaking of his particular ad style back in in May of 2015, Puzder crowed to Entrepreneur magazine that showing teenagers in bikinis overheating in hot tubs while eating burgers achieved his highest self-praise: “I think there’s probably nothing more American.”
So I’ll get to the new long-form ad, from 72 and Sunny, shortly.
But in related news, even though he has left the company, Puzder actually resurfaced this week on Stuart Varney’s show on Fox Business, to take credit for the move away from smarm.
It seems that around the same time — the fall of 2015 — that he was defending his creepy ads as all-American, Puzder was actually devising this rebrand. He told Varney that in “December of 2015, I went to our ad agency and said ‘Look, young hungry guys aren’t as affected by the racy ads with swimsuit models because you can get a lot of that on the Internet now.’”
He added: “Young guys today, the millennial young guys, are concerned with where do you source your beef, what kind of cooking system do you have?”
And amazingly, he actually acknowledged that the ads amounted to porn for old guys like himself: “You and I certainly may like the ads we’ve been running a long time, but the younger guys can get that on the Internet,” he told Varney. “ You can get sex on the Internet — you don’t need a Carl’s Jr. or Hardee’s ad.”
Feel like washing your hands yet?
So I have great empathy for 72 and Sunny -- tasked all these years with making those Puzder prizes -- to have to switch gears, publicly killing its own campaign and launching a new one.
At the same time, it’s not like this three-minute spot breaks the land/sea record for feminism. (It’s still filled with the sexy underage lady stuff that the “old man” has come to tear down.) It also comes off as very self-indulgent. A lot of consumers are just not that into, or familiar with, the agency story, or the birth-of-the-brand story.
Especially since 72 and Sunny could have created great, new, non-misogynist ads that speak for themselves, without such an immense (if satirical) pat on the back for its already late, lamented work.
Still, considering all this new, we’re-coming-clean, transparency about the switch, this three-minute spot (which will run next week in a 60-second version during the NCAA championship game) amounts to a jerry-built Frankenstein brand story, something created in an ad lab mixed up with a teaspoon of authentic flavor. (Next you’re gonna tell me that Commander Whitehead was a phony.)
To be fair, the two brands are something of a Frankenstein themselves, since they were two entirely different restaurant chains, founded by two very different people -- Carl Karcher and Wilbur Hardee -- that amalgamated.
Still, the agency created a new fictional, silver-haired, smart-suited combo-founder, “Carl Hardee Sr.,” who has arrived at headquarters to yank away control from his feeble-minded, self-indulgent son, (comedian Drew Tarver) who is apparently responsible for the sexist mess.
Mr. Sr. is played by Charles Esten (“Nashville”), a great actor who actually seems miscast here. He’s a 40s-ish actor (way younger than “The Most Interesting Man in the World”) made up to look like he's in his 60s.
So the whole idea that a guy that would want to punish his millennial son for the leering hot-tub stuff is exactly the opposite scenario that Puzder laid out for Varney, above.
In that case, the cool millennial son would be pushing for the focus on natural, artisanal food and see his horny dad as sexist and creepy and want to put him out to pasture. (Maybe he could move in with Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion.)
My hope is that this campaign only starts out as painfully self-conscious and bad, and will straighten itself out as it progresses. Because for now, it’s more preoccupied with showing a parade of cleavage past than creating a coherent future with Carl Sr.