Don't read this story--it's a PR ploy

By Published on .

Warning: if you read this story, you're a pawn in Carl's Jr.'s naked publicity grab.

By venturing beyond our carefully crafted headline, you're proving how effectively CKE Restaurants has pushed your buttons with its erotic Paris Hilton commercial promoting its Spicy BBQ Burger.

And by becoming hot and bothered, morality groups also got sucked into the PR trap. In urging the Federal Communications Commission and the burger purveyor to pull the spot, they actually helped fan the flames of controversy-garnering the marketer millions in free media coverage.

Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media, acknowledged his moves could have played into CKE Restaurants' plans. "Undoubtedly, there's some truth in that. If that is the only factor that should be considered, almost no one would ever object to anything. It's a sad comment on mainstream news media. If the ad were anti-Semitic or racist, the mainstream media would never run it. What do you do? Do you never speak out on it?"


As part of his protest, Mr. Peters said he viewed the "too hot for TV" version online at least 20 times. (He did not say whether he had a cigarette afterward.) "The only difference between what Paris did and what you'd see in a high-class strip joint," he said, "is that instead of a pole, Paris did it on a car." He spoke from experience, admitting he went to such an establishment once, while in college.

He wasn't the only one who watched a burning Paris over and over in a Web ad starring the socialite known for her signature "That's hot" line and black-market sex video. Within a day of its May 19 posting, the commercial crashed the company's Web site and companion site, so the marketer claimed.

That bit of hype may have been manufactured, though, since traffic to the site hadn't reached 20,000 unique visitors yet, according to Web traffic tracker ComScore Networks. But traffic clicked in at the rate of 160,000 unique visitors after the morality watchdogs protested the site. Traffic spiked at 309,000 unique voyeurs-er, visitors-with 239,000 of them viewing while at the office. Tsk, tsk.

News coverage more than doubled once the morality advocates weighed in, according to an analysis by Jennifer Hoffman, VP at media analyst Carma International. On May 13, some 79 stories ran as rumors began about the spot and were picked up by the Associated Press. The most stories ran on May 24 with 259 pieces, mainly Internet reprints of a second AP story that blared "Soft Core Pornburger Outrages Parents." CKE insisted it wasn't baiting the morality groups. "These groups have behaved without our influence," said Brad Haley, exec VP-marketing for Carl's Jr. and Hardee's. He admitted to baiting the media, however.

milking it

"Part of her appeal is that when she goes to the corner to buy milk, it creates headlines," said Mr. Haley, who added, with typical CKE subtlety, that the attention was "far beyond anything we anticipated."

It wasn't possible at press time to get an independent valuation of the publicity, but Mr. Haley said it will rival the $16 million budget for the TV campaign, created by Mendelsohn Zien, Los Angeles.

"It may have gotten more attention, but I don't think it's been positive attention," said Melissa Caldwell, director-research and publications for the Parents Television Council, which inspired at least 4,300 protest letters to be sent to CKE Restaurants. "We helped raise awareness of their irresponsible advertising practices."

Another score for Paris.

Hot topic

Paris is burning: News coverage

NO. of Paris Hilton/ Carl's Jr. stories

May 10 1

May 13 79

May 14 24

May 15 6

May 16 11

May 17 6

May 18 3

May 19* 5

May 20 2

May 23 21

May 24 259

May 25 65

May 26 12

*Date ad broke

Source: Carma International

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