Commentary

Where's The Beef? The Preening De-Cleavage-ization Of Carl's Jr.

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.

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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.

11 comments about "Where's The Beef? The Preening De-Cleavage-ization Of Carl's Jr. ".
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  1. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, March 31, 2017 at 5:31 p.m.

    It's funny but I don't ever recall a product sales ad that had a female had a beautiful model, thin size, perfect makeup and usually is a low cut dress over the past 15 years. Most of the female models are under 30 years of age would be my guess. If Carl's is guilty of anything, it's jumping on the sex sells train.

    But maybe your right. Maybe we should see more over weight Bill Bob rednecks and Sally May trailer park types in juicy hamburger commercials. Would this this satisfactory to you? 

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 31, 2017 at 6 p.m.

    The best thing to do....eat local.

  3. Deirdre Hanssen from The Promo Zone, March 31, 2017 at 7:56 p.m.

    If we're supposed to believe Hardee Sr. started flipping burgers in 1956 as the ad states, he should be at least 80 now and Jr. should be 50+, but neither actor comes across as those ages. Unless I missed something. Awful lot of supers that the lawyers must have insisted on.  Bottom line, I don't see this campaign appealing to either a younger or an older target group.

  4. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, April 2, 2017 at 9:27 a.m.

    Campaigns like these make most normal people think the advertising business is filled with the dregs of the business world. I was going to say the dregs of humanity, but it seems those people are flocking towards politics.

  5. Judy Paolini from TPda replied, April 2, 2017 at 10:25 a.m.

    John Hutter is dead on, as usual 

  6. Nancy Levine from Self, April 2, 2017 at 10:39 a.m.

    Truer words never spoken: "they could have created great, new, non-misogynist ads." I find the ad only a shade less offensive than their porn campaign. It plays to the make America great folks by turning the clock back to the 1950s, deflecting the blame onto junior, and still giving the porn audience a fix. Gross.

  7. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, April 2, 2017 at 6:25 p.m.

    Craig McDaniel-- I have zero desire to see Sally May trailer parks in a burger commercial. Just something funny, fresh, that doesn't use the old bikini bull. 

  8. Jim English from The Met Museum, April 2, 2017 at 10:44 p.m.

    Bravo Barbara.  As you said back in '05 of Paris' exploits, "I think it’s fair to say that rubbing, licking, hosing, soaping and getting down on hands and knees to eat a whopper of a burger is the woman’s métier in a nutshell."

  9. Brenda Garrand from Garrand, April 3, 2017 at 6:44 p.m.

    Too right, Barbara. Tough to recover from such a guilty-pleasure (uhhh, sorry...) strategy. What's that thing we always say when unsure how to explain what happened on the way to the wrong finish line? "Clients get the work they deserve?" 

    Not sitting squarely in the target market tick box, I scarcely "connect" with all that burger T and A, but one has to assume something has gone right for Carl's Jr. and Hardee's for such a campaign to persist so creepily for so long. 

    Since I am besotted with Daddy Hardee as played by the muy caliente Charles Esten on his (mostly Nashville-based) merits, my own "lust-affair" with Carl Jr's has now begun. Perhaps post menopausal northern white girls are the secret target for this mostly south and west fat food. We are, as we know, a growing demographic. Sigh.

  10. John Grono from GAP Research replied, April 3, 2017 at 11:38 p.m.

    Seems to me Jonathan, that quite a few high-profile dregs have flocked to the White House.

    Also, note to self: December 2015 - start of racy ads and swimsuit models on the Internet.   Who'd have thunk it!

  11. John Grono from GAP Research replied, April 3, 2017 at 11:40 p.m.

    Oops.   "...high-profile business dregs..." that should say.

    Joe, any progress on Ed's suggestion of reviewing/editing your comment before posting?

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