CKE Launches Carl's Jr. Ads From New Agency Havas

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Carl's Jr. Open Sesame
Carl's Jr. Open Sesame Credit: Carl's Jr.

CKE picked Havas as its creative agency of record just two weeks ago and already the agency's first work for the fast feeder debuts Monday, showing just how quickly CKE wants to pivot to a new approach.

CKE Restaurants Holdings Inc. isn't a household name, but its Carl's Jr. and Hardee's chains, since around 1941 and 1961, respectively, are well known in their markets. CKE put its creative account up for review in October after bringing on a new CEO and a new chief marketing officer earlier in 2017. Havas, which will handle the account out of its Chicago office, was selected on Feb. 2 and informed Feb. 5, says CMO Jeff Jenkins. Incumbent 72andSunny was invited to pitch but declined to participate.

The sibling chains have often run shared campaigns since Carl's Jr. owner CKE bought the Hardee's chain in 1997. Now, CKE's splitting the messages. Havas' first work for CKE is a campaign only for Carl's Jr.

Havas quickly put together a commercial featuring the Western Bacon Cheeseburger and the voice of actor Matthew McConaughey. Yes, the same voice that sells high-end Lincoln automobiles is now selling hamburgers. In the Carl's Jr. work he's only heard, not seen.

"That's the call of Carl's. Pick up," McConaughey says to end the spot.

His voice also plays a major role in the radio spots.

The "Call of Carl's" effort is a "transformational campaign" for the brand, says Jenkins, who joined CKE as CMO in June. (He was most recently at Whole Foods Market and also previously worked for Taco Bell.)

Havas Co-Chairman and Chief Creative Officer Jason Peterson told Ad Age the pitch for the business was "super quick," and all the work from the agency presented in the pitch is what's going into market now.

Just last March, a campaign from 72andSunny tried to get Carl's Jr. and Hardee's to be known for "food, not boobs," trying to move the brands past years of marketing featuring bikini babes. That push included a fictional founding family and was done under CMO Brad Haley, who left CKE last summer for the same role at IHOP.

Now, under CEO Jason Marker and Jenkins, who each joined last year, the two brands are set to stand on their own.

"We decided they needed to have their own identities," says Jenkins. "They don't have to operate in the same shared space."

Soon, Hardee's will get its own campaign as CKE works on redefining that brand.

Don't expect the babes to make a comeback for either chain.

"The new leadership team is really focused on telling our food story," says Jenkins, adding that they "don't want to ostracize anyone."

Carl's Jr. has always been involved with what's going on in culture, but the brand has been quiet as of late and a lot of its recent work has blended into the category, says Havas' Peterson. The new ads are meant to focus on the chain's handmade cheeseburgers rather than trying to chase innovations or trends, he says. While TV plays a big role in the campaign, Havas is using what Peterson calls a "social- first" model and its content lab is creating content daily, and even hourly, for CKE.

Privately-held CKE doesn't disclose sales. In 2016, Hardee's sales rose 3.5 percent to $2.2 billion and Carl's Jr.'s sales rose 1.6 percent to nearly $1.5 billion, according to data from Technomic. The chains compete against a variety of competitors, including massive ones like McDonald's, where U.S. systemwide sales exceed $36 billion.

CKE continues to work with Initiative's New York office on media.

-- Lindsay Stein contributed

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