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Jack in the box has bounced back from near disaster to become one of the most admired -- and best performing -- restaurant chains in the U.S.

An irreverent ad campaign featuring "Jack," the chain's clown-headed CEO, was a major factor in the turnaround, which began about two years after a fatal outbreak of food poisoning in 1993 linked to undercooked Jack in the Box hamburgers.

Jack in the Box opened in 1951 and expanded to the East and Midwest under ownership of Ralston Purina Co. in the 1970s before pulling back to the West and Southwest in '79. Ralston Purina sold the chain back to its parent, Foodmaker Inc., in 1985, and it went public for a second time in 1992.

In 1980, the chain scrapped its Jack in the Box icon and aired a spot showing Jack being blown up to make way for a new adult menu. But in January 1995, the current campaign, originated by TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif., broke with the new Jack and the tag, "Jack's back."


The campaign has evolved and continued to produce results since the assignment shifted last spring to Kowloon Wholesale Seafood Co., Santa Monica, Calif. Kowloon President Dick Sittig created the campaign while at TBWA Chiat/Day, which resigned the account to take on creative duties for Taco Bell.

For the fiscal year ended Sept. 28, Jack in the Box parent Foodmaker earned a record $34.1 million; Jack in the Box, the company's only business, posted its 11th consecutive quarterly increase in same-store sales. Per-store average sales grew 4.2% during the period, and were up 6.5% for the year. Systemwide sales were more than $1.3 billion, up almost 9%.

Jack in the Box is the fifth-largest player in the burger segment, according to Technomic.

With 1,323 units concentrated in the western U.S., it differentiates itself from big-spending -- and far larger -- rivals by focusing on distinctive products and taste. Besides burgers, the menu also includes tacos, a spicy chicken sandwich and Sourdough Jack, a burger served on a sourdough roll.

Current TV spots have more fun than ever with the cartoonish CEO. One spoofs a music video, featuring scantily clad models holding chicken sandwiches. It cuts to a dismayed Jack declaring to the eager employee who created the video,

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