Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s are trying to clean up their reputation, nixing the "babes and burgers" campaign beloved by former CEO Andy Puzder. Gone is the image of a company that caters to the whims of the red-blooded American male. Gone are the ads featuring women in skimpy bikinis that were favored by Puzder. Now the focus is on what CKE Restaurants, the parent company, says matters most: food.
To make sure that consumers are aware of this shift, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s rolled out a new campaign featuring Carl Hardee Sr. — a fictional character meant to show that there is a new boss in town who will get the company back on track.
“We are pioneers of the great American burger, the great American made-from-scratch biscuit and whatever great American thing we think of next. And that’s a promise,” Hardee Sr. says in the three-minute ad released this morning.
The campaign comes a week after Puzder resigned from his post as the chief executive of CKE. He will be replaced by Jason Marker, who was president of KFC U.S.
A spokesman for the company reached out to Marketplace to point out the new ad campaign was in the works for more than a year - "well before the secretary of labor nomination and while Jason was running KFC".
"Given Andy is still CEO as Jason will not take the reins until next month, we wanted to clarify that the launch of this campaign is unrelated to Andy’s stepping down or Jason taking over," he said.
It has been a tumultuous year for Puzder. After being hand-picked by President Trump to run the Department of Labor, Puzder came under scrutiny for opposing higher minimum wage, Carl Jr.’s labor law violations, hiring an undocumented housekeeper and, yes, the racy Carl’s Jr. ads featuring women in bikinis. Before Congress members got their chance to grill Puzder, he withdrew his nomination.
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If the current campaign tagline is “food, not boobs,” then the one for Puzder’s reign during the last decade and a half has been something along the lines of “babes and burgers.” (Actually, the new tagline is “Pioneers of the great American burger” but who is going to remember that over “food, not boobs?”)
“If you’ve seen our ads, you know that we target young, hungry guys,” Puzder previously said of the old ads.
In 2015, he defended the ads, saying they were American and that Carl’s Jr.’s red-blooded male brand was reflective of his own personality.
“I like our ads,” he told Entrepreneur magazine. “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it's very American,” he said. “I used to hear, ‘Brands take on the personality of the CEO.’ And I rarely thought that was true, but I think this one, in this case, it kind of did take on my personality.”
The new ad campaign was created by ad agency 72andSunny.
“It was time to evolve,” Jason Norcross, executive creative director and partner at 72andSunny, told AdWeek. The new, more mature campaign is going to have fewer distractions and focus more on the products, such as the biscuits and the meat. “Some of the product attributes got lost because people were too busy ogling girls,” Norcross said.
Correction, 3/29/17: A previous version of this story misquoted the ad. The text has been corrected.