Ailing Hardee's chain sings for supper in ads

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Flagging fast-food chain Hardee's Food Systems is teaming up with famous singers as spokespeople for a new $100 million ad campaign that kicks off March 5.

The first three TV ads will feature original songs created for the as-yet-unnamed celebrities -- Hardee's will reveal the names later this week.

The campaign is the first from Johnson/Ukropina Creative Marketing, Irvine, Calif., which was hired in December, shortly after Hardee's parted ways with Leap Partnership, Chicago.

"We focus on the star spokesingers and on lifestyle with singing and lots of food shots," said Carolyn Johnson, executive creative director and partner at John-son/Ukropina. "We also show who the customers are, and show them not just inside the restaurant."

STAR HARDEE'S

Joyce Ukropina, president and partner, added, "Hardee's has a very loyal breakfast group and we want to retain them, but we want to also get them to come back for lunch and dinner."

The campaign comes at a time when Hardee's could use a boost. The 2,800-store chain, acquired by CKE Restaurants in 1997, lags McDonald's Corp., Burger King Corp. and Wendy's International as the fourth in the quick-serve burger category.

"It's a burger chain that doesn't sell many burgers," said one executive close to the company.

In fact, the strong breakfast appeal Ms. Ukropina referred to has been a bit of a bane to Hardee's as it tries to make over its image by converting its stores to a Star Hardee's format. About two-thirds of the stores have been revamped with a concept that highlights char-broiled food, food delivered to the table and unlimited drink refills.

Still about 30% of Hardee's sales currently come from breakfast. As the revamp continues, the company needs to retain the loyal breakfast crowd while attracting new and younger burger eaters.

MULTIFACETED APPEAL

The ad campaign is slated to do just that with the first three ads using singers that will appeal to the MTV generation, baby boomers and country music fans. Consumers will see different variations of the ads, depending on whether the nearest Hardee's has been converted to the Star concept or not.

Along with its tough financial times, Hardee's has had difficulty retaining an agency over the past few years. Leap held the account for just one year. Before Leap, Angotti Thomas Hedge, New York, handled the account for eight months.

But the company may finally have found stability with Johnson/Ukropina. The agency handled promotional and merchandising tasks for Carl's Jr. (also owned by Hardee's parent CKE Restaurants) for six years and had taken on work in helping revamp Hardee's into Star Hardee's. The agency created the first Carl's Jr. ad in 1973.

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