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Carl's Jr. Hopes New Advertising Will Boost Chain's Lagging Sales

March 18, 2000|GREG JOHNSON and GREG HERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Seeking to ignite lackluster sales, Carl's Jr. on Sunday will unveil a new advertising program that will replace an edgy but aging campaign that included basketball player Dennis Rodman and occasionally sparked controversy among some consumers.

Created by Los Angeles-based Mendelsohn/Zien Advertising, the new campaign includes two tag lines: "Don't bother me, I'm eating," and "Without us, some guys would starve." The ads are aimed at broadening the appeal of the Anaheim-based restaurant chain.

CKE Restaurants Inc., the chain's parent company, declined to comment publicly about the new marketing effort. But word surfaced less than a week after CKE unveiled a new ad campaign for its Hardee's fast-food chain.

CKE doesn't break out the costs of individual ad campaigns, but the Carl's Jr. advertising and marketing budget for this year is $50 million. Hardee's annual advertising and marketing budget is about $100 million, according to the company.

CKE executives are betting that the new creative work will help to revive slumping sales at the Carl's Jr. and Hardee's chains. The company's share price has remained stalled near its 52-week low of $5.69, and in December, CKE blamed slow sales at the Carl's and Hardee's chains for an 81% drop in fiscal third-quarter profits.

The Hardee's campaign introduced earlier this month features music from such entertainers as Motown's Smokey Robinson and Vonda Shepard of television's "Ally McBeal." That marks a noticeable departure from the chain's past advertising.

The new Carl's Jr. spots, however, build upon the recent campaign with the tag line, "If it doesn't get all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face."

Commercials with the "without us, some guys would starve" tag line are aimed at younger males who eat most of the fast-food sold in this country. The "don't bother me, I'm eating" ads are designed to cater to a broader range of fast-food fans.

The dual tag lines could help the chain build bridges to other demographic groups. What's more, it could win back some consumers who may have been turned off by the company's on-again, off-again relationship with Rodman, who pitched the chain's burgers.

The past ad campaign "has been effective with the young guys," said Hal Sieling, a Carlsbad, Calif.-based restaurant industry consultant. "But it's pretty narrowly focused. . . . You need to change if your [sales] aren't where they need to be."

In the fast-food industry, observers say, fresh advertising is as important as fresh food.

"The challenge to the ad agency is to hit more than one home run," said Ron Paul, president of the Chicago-based Technomic Inc. consulting firm. "You want to replace the campaign with something that at least gets the same attention level as the prior one."

CKE operates 3,000 Hardee's restaurants, mainly in Eastern states, and 914 Carl's Jr. locations.

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