Nearly a year after scrapping its provocative burger ads, Carl’s Jr. is still struggling to differentiate itself from its closest competitors and its partner brand, Hardee’s.
On Monday, CKE Restaurants, which owns both Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, launched a new advertising campaign that showcases the “crave-ability” of Carl’s Jr.’s menu.
The campaign features the voice of actor Matthew McConaughey telling diners to “pick up” and answer the “Call of Carl’s.”
“Carl’s Jr. is big taste you can feel,” CEO Jason Marker told CNBC Thursday. “It’s bold, disruptive, it’s got an edge.”
Just ahead of Marker’s ascension to the top post in April last year, the company ditched the brand’s racy television ads, which featured models and actresses such as Kate Upton, Heidi Klum and Hayden Panettiere, in favor of marketing that promoted the restaurants’ food quality.
Marker took the helm at CKE Restaurants from Andy Puzder, who had served as CEO since 2000.
In late March, the company launched the “Carl Hardee Sr.” campaign, which introduced Carl’s Jr.’s father, who dismantled the old advertising within the ad and refocused the company’s message.
“We are very focused on the quality and the food being front and center,” Marker said. “This is a change from the past.”
Carl’s Jr.’s newest ad campaign couldn’t come at a better time. While CKE Restaurants was able to gain some traction with the Carl Hardee Sr. campaign, it still struggled to lure in customers.
YouGov BrandIndex, a consumer research service, found that the percentage of customers that would consider purchasing from Carl’s Jr. is significantly lower than that of its competitors.
On average, 28 percent of fast-food eaters would consider buying from the top five quick-service chains — McDonald’s, Subway, Wendy’s,Burger King and Taco Bell — the next time they’re out for fast food, while only 11 percent would consider Carl’s Jr.
“This is likely why parent company CKE Restaurants just split Carl’s Jr. from its fellow Hardee’s chain,” YouGov’s CEO Ted Marzilli wrote on the company’s website. “Even with actor Matthew McConaughey just recruited for a new series of TV spots, Carl’s Jr. and its new creative agency Havas have their work cut out for them.”
While the two brands will continue to share some menu items, like hand-breaded chicken strips and hand-spun shakes, Marker told CNBC that CKE Restaurants is working to showcase what is special about the brands as individuals.
While Carl’s Jr. is bold and edgy, Hardee’s has a reputation for offering Southern classics and has more of a comfort food feel, according to Marker.
“We are going to make sure the brands are separated in the right way and have a unique pipeline of innovations for each brand,” he said.
The hope is that these efforts, as well as continued store expansion, will give Carl’s Jr. a much-needed boost.
“We are working on becoming the fastest-growing QSR brand in America,” Marker said.