Carl's Jr. and Hardee's reunite in national ads featuring Happy Star as a brand mascot

Campaign from 72andSunny New York brings the chains back together

Published On
Feb 12, 2020

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CKE is using a different three-letter combination—BFC—as it brings its Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains back together in a national campaign from 72andSunny New York.

The “Feed Your Happy” work debuting this month stems from ideas 72andSunny presented in its pitch to win back the account last year.

“They just knew the history of the brand, they knew the story of the brand, they knew the business, most importantly,” Patty Trevino, senior VP of brand marketing at CKE Restaurants Holdings Inc., says on the latest edition of Ad Age’s Marketer’s Brief podcast.

The MDC Partners agency knew the business because it held the account for years. CKE has shuffled through agencies and marketers in recent years as it tries to move beyond campaigns that focused more on bikini babes than the food they were eating. 

CKE selected 72andSunny as its agency in late 2011 and then switched over to Havas Chicago in 2018, with campaigns that took the two chains in different directions. By November 2018, Havas Chicago still had the Carl’s Jr. business but had lost the Hardee’s account to Havas-owned Arnold. Systemwide sales at both chains were on the decline. Then, in 2019, the Carl’s Jr. account went up for review. Erich & Kallman handled Carl’s Jr. work over the summer while the agency search was being conducted, including a digital spot that featured plenty of bleeped language and was toned down for some TV airings. CKE brought back 72andSunny to handle work on both brands in late 2019

The first “Feed Your Happy” work features a new limited-time Big Fried Cheese (BFC) Angus Thickburger. The burger features a seemingly made-to-share-on-social-media ingredient, a crispy disc of melted cheddar and mozzarella cheese placed on top of the patty, as well as a spicy mayo sauce.

Another spot shows Happy Star suggesting a guy get a big burger, rather than a protein bar, after a long day.

While the BFC might attract new or lapsed diners, the star, if you will, of the “Feed Your Happy” campaign is actually named Happy Star. He’s the star-shaped icon used by both brands and he’s being emphasized in more marketing beginning with this campaign.

“There was an opportunity for us to leverage our own icon,” Trevino says of Happy Star. 

In the campaign, an animated Happy Star shows up at times when people want to escape from “adulting” moments, such as being in a dull meeting at work. 

Happy Star will be a spokescharacter for both brands in ads that run nationally and will be used singularly in local campaigns. 

“We have an opportunity to kind of reestablish these two brands with this younger audience,” says Trevino, who works on both brands after working on Carl’s Jr. when she joined CKE in 2018.

Local ads, such as spots for Hardee’s breakfast sandwiches, will account for about half of the work. As Trevino points out, 40 percent of the business at Hardee’s is breakfast. And the fast-food industry is about to face another competitor, when Wendy's brings back national breakfast on March 2.

Other campaign plans include social media work including Twitter posts from The Brand Amp, a 1-800 number to reach Happy Star that will be featured in radio spots, and deciding how to use Happy Star to amplify the brand’s reach on TikTok.