Sex Doesn't Sell, Especially for Carl's Jr., Says Copy-Testing Firm

Ameritest Finds Ad Featuring Seemingly Naked Model Underperforms Industry

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Does sex really sell? Not so much, according to copy-testing firm Ameritest, and not in particular for Carl's Jr. and Hardees, who got more than 10 million YouTube hits but very little love for their local-market ad that ran during the Super Bowl.

The spot, from 72andSunny shows model Charlotte McKinney walking, seemingly naked, through a farm market, before it's revealed that she is wearing a bikini and has a hankering for a really large All-Natural Burger, which she stuffs seducitvely in her mouth.

For the sake of pure research, not for pay from any clients, Ameritest recently showed the ad to its consumer panel. If found that 27% of the consumers said they planned to visit a Carl's Jr. or Hardees restaurant in the next 30 days after seeing the ad. But that's well below the 43% of consumers who respond similarly on average after seeing a restaurant ad, according to Ameritest, which has tested thousands of ads for the industry, according to Sean Scott, senior brand consultant.

On the upside, 94% of viewers remembered the ad was for Carl's Jr. On that score, Ms. McKinney, because she's less known than some prior Carl's Jr. burger stuffers -- such as Paris Hilton -- kept the spotlight squarely on the brand, leading to higher brand recall, said Mr. Scott.

On the other hand, people didn't really associate Ms. McKinney with the "All-Natural" product, he said. "They might have done better with a model who looked more natural."

Then there's this: 52% of Ameritest viewers found the ad offensive and 51% found it irritating and annoying. A substantial 32% felt worse about Carl's Jr. for having seen the ad, compared to 8% who feel that way after seeing an average fast-food ad, which itself is worse than the averages for other industries.

Mr. Scott acknowledged reports from Carl's Jr. that the ad actually delivered strong and better-than-expected results. He attributes that, however, to a $1 coupon offer for an All-Natural Burger Combo, proving that coupons sell even if sex doesn't. "But they do nothing for the brand long-term," Mr. Scott said.

Beyond Carl's Jr. and despite widespread use of sex in advertising, he said Ameritest has found it generally doesn't perform that well in spurring purchase intent. An exception is for such products as Viagra, he said, "where basically they're selling sex."

The Ameritest study "is not consistent with our sales results, which are the ultimate measure of any advertising's success," said a spokeswoman for CKE Restaurants, owner of Carl's Jr., in an e-mail. "Sales for the Carl's Jr. All-Natural Burger reached a new high the week of the Super Bowl broadcast," she said. Media coverage of it surpassed 3 billion earned impressions, which combined with the 10-million-plus YouTube views, broke records for any ad the company ever has done.

"Without seeing Ameritest's survey methodology," she said, "I can't comment on why their data would be inconsistent with other studies and our own actual results."

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