Business Goes to Mendelsohn/Zien, Los Angeles

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CHICAGO ( -- CKE Restaurants' Hardee's Food Systems, St. Louis, is moving its $80 million advertising business from Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York, to Mendelsohn/Zien, Los Angeles.

The shop also handles CKE sibling Carl's Jr. and Taco Bueno, which CKE sold in June.

10th account shift
Hardee's made the move, its 10th such shift in nine years, after two advertising campaigns by Cliff Freeman fell short in driving customers to the eatery.

Brad Haley, Hardee's executive vice president of marketing, had earlier worked with Cliff Freeman when he was the chief marketing officer for AFC's Church's Chicken, tapping the agency after he joined Hardee's in 2000.

In March, Cliff Freeman introduced a tongue-in-cheek campaign starring a talking biscuit, but quickly replaced it with a more straightforward, nostalgic effort.

'Didn't catch the irony'
"Some people didn't catch the irony," Mr. Haley said at the time of the creative about-face. The current tagline is "Hardee's. The way food ought to be."

The current Cliff Freeman campaign drew what Mr. Haley called a "modest response" in the market, with the chain posting its first positive sales trend in years after seeing same-store sales declines of 7% to 10% the prior year.

As Hardee's was shifting its advertising strategy, Carl's Jr. rolled out a one-pound hamburger called the Six-Dollar Burger, which is meant to be comparable to those sold in casual dining chains like T.G.I. Friday's.

Lawsuit and new customers
Mendelsohn/Zien's campaign mocked the Carlson Restaurants unit, drawing not only a lawsuit by Friday's but also new customers and, ultimately, credit for helping turn the sales tide for the brand.

"The Mendelsohn/Zien folks have done stellar work for Carl's ... so we wanted to give them a crack at Hardee's," Mr. Haley said.

"It's going to take some time," said Richard Zien, president-CEO of Mendelsohn/Zien. "We want to make sure we're focused and on the same path."

Meanwhile, Cliff Freeman is working on a 90-day termination contract.