Carl's Jr. and Hardee's Newest Ads Are Wholesome -- No, Really, They Are

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'Grass-fed beef is better,' says the fast-feeders.
'Grass-fed beef is better,' says the fast-feeders. Credit: Carl's Jr. and Hardee's

Employees at Carl's Jr. and Hardee's make biscuits from scratch each morning. They hand-bread chicken tenders. They scoop ice cream for milkshakes, rather than using a prepared mix. But no one really knows about the work that goes into making the fast food. Now, the sister chains are working to change that.

A new campaign from 72andSunny shows real employees describing the work they do and some of the ingredients they use, such as grass-fed beef.

For Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, both owned by Roark Capital Group's CKE Restaurants, a campaign centered on employee testimonials is a bit of a departure. Carl's Jr., in particular, is better known for commercials featuring women in swimsuits.

The new effort is still aimed at the same target group of diners: young, hungry men.

"One of the hallmarks of the millennial generation is they want authenticity and so what better way, in this case, to deliver it than to have real employees being honest with them about the food that they're making," said Brad Haley, chief marketing officer, CKE Restaurants. "Since we do take a variety of approaches I'm not sure that I'd say that we've changed. This is a little bit different but not a lot different, at least in terms of how we've advertised our breakfast products in the past."

There's a truthful vibe to the spots. Employee Dolores A. kicks off one by saying, "I'm not a big fast food fan," then goes on to talk about the chains' grass-fed burgers.

"Grass-fed beef is better at Carl's Jr. and Hardee's," she says at the end of the 30-second commercial. She appears again in another spot about how employees hand-bread chicken tenders.

"I do tend to geek out about biscuits," employee Ethan P. says in another spot. He demonstrates making biscuits, including pouring buttermilk "in a spiral pattern" and folding the dough "in kind of a breaststroke pattern."

Teshannia B. describes making milkshakes, and doesn't exactly praise the process. "It is like manual labor," she says of hand-scooping ice cream.

The ingredients and preparation techniques are not new at Carl's Jr., which operates west of the Rockies, and Hardee's, as the restaurants are known in the east. Black Angus beef Thickburgers and hand-scooped milkshakes have been available for more than a decade. Hardee's began making biscuits from scratch in the 1980s, followed by Carl's Jr. about six years ago, Mr. Haley said.

"The goal of this campaign was to remind people of all these things that we do that really differentiate us from the typical fast food experience," he said.

The five new commercials, which begin airing Nov. 7, are the first phase of a longer campaign aimed at raising awareness of the chain's quality cues, an area of focus for millennials and the broader population. The quality message is also being worked into some of the designs for restaurant remodeling, Mr. Haley said.

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