‘Six’ sells for CKE, even as burger nears namesake price

‘Six’ sells for CKE, even as burger nears namesake price

CARPINTERIA Calif. Carl’s Jr. [3] —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

Also sold at sister chain Hardee’s [4], both of which are operated and franchised by Carpinteria-based CKE Restaurants Inc. [5], the Six Dollar Burger is a big, juicy, 100-percent Black Angus thumb of the nose at other smaller and more traditional fast-food hamburger offerings. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

The very name of the Six Dollar Burger line, now a signature of the premium-menu-focused CKE brands, is designed to convey a trade-down message: This quick-service burger tastes like something that you’d pay as much as $6 for at a sit-down restaurant. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

There’s only one problem: The prices of some items in the Six Dollar Burger line have come awfully close to $6, raising the question of whether the name will continue to convey the same message of value. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

CKE officials say customers are often confused, assuming the “Six Dollar” refers to the actual price, though they’re pleasantly surprised to find it costs a bit less. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

The issue has prompted an internal debate at CKE in recent months, with some pushing for a name change to “Thickburger,” a similarly high-quality burger sold at Hardee’s. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

For now, however, the company remains convinced that its customers prefer the name as it is, even as prices continue to creep nearer to the $6 mark. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

“These days, it really should be called the ‘Twelve Dollar Burger, with commodity prices where they are,” joked Andrew Puzder, CKE chief executive, who contends that the name should stay the same. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

Puzder cites long-established brands like Motel Six, so named because rooms were priced at $6 back in the day. Rooms aren’t anywhere near $6 anymore, but the name still conveys the brand’s value message. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

Still, last year CKE conducted consumer surveys to gauge guest reaction to a possible name change. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

Brad Haley, executive vice president of marketing for both Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, said they asked consumers in the marketing regions for both brands—Hardee’s 1,908 locations are primarily in the Midwest, and much of the 1,195-unit Carl’s Jr. chain is on the West Coast—what both the Six Dollar and Thickburger names evoked. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

“It turned out both saw ‘Thickburger’ as a uni-dimensional name,” Haley said. “It just said ‘thick.’ But the Six Dollar name to them meant ‘better’ and ‘bigger.’ It conveyed quality. That really put the matter to rest.” —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

For now. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

Haley noted that consumer perceptions of pricing are something that can change on a dime, especially in an economic climate that has so many people focused on where they can find the best deal for their money. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

The Six Dollar Burger first debuted in 2001 for a recommended $3.95—and the Original Six Dollar remains on the menu for a recommended $3.99, only a few cents more. Officials say they are committed to keeping at least that one option within the line as close as possible to the original below-$4-but-tastes-like-$6 price. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

The line, however, has grown to include eight variations—six permanent and two rotating limited-time offers—involving a half-pound, 100-percent Black Angus patty and toppings like guacamole and bacon, now for a recommended $4.99, and portobello mushroom, for a recommended $4.89. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

Some franchisees, particularly in the distribution-challenged regions of Hawaii and Alaska, are now pricing their Six Dollar line above $5, Haley said. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

Last year the chain made headlines for its calorie-bomb, meat-as-condiment options, such as the Prime Rib Six Dollar, which sold for a recommended $5.89. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

That was the catalyst that prompted CKE officials to rethink the name, Haley said. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

CKE doesn’t offer any meat-on-meat burgers at the moment, Haley added—not because of its proximity to the $6 roof but because “it was a challenge to sell the meat-on-meat burgers at a price the market would bear.” —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

Lower-priced options are on the menu at CKE restaurants, such as the Famous Star with cheese at Carl’s Jr., priced at a recommended $2.45, or the Western Bacon burger for a recommended $2.99. But those items are only promoted with in-store materials. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

Most of CKE’s annual advertising budget of roughly $120 million is spent promoting the more premium Six Dollar and Thickburger products with edgy, sexy ads that aim for the brands’ target market of “young hungry men,” Haley said. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

Carl’s Jr. in late June launched a new commercial featuring Audrina Patridge, the curvaceous star of the television program “The Hills,” eating a Teriyaki Six Dollar Burger while wearing a gold lamé bikini. She joins a lineup of model-actresses such as Padma Lakshmi and Paris Hilton, who also have famously eaten the premium burgers in ways that suggest something other than lunch. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

Other commercials focus on price. One ad features an office worker who brings a Six Dollar Burger lunch to his colleagues, piling the burgers and fries on a tray without packaging. They toss over $20 bills to reimburse him, suggesting that the burgers that once reached for $6 now taste like $20. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

Stuart Morris, president of QSR Consulting Group in Coronado, Calif., said the original premise that diners could get a casual-dining-worthy burger for $3 to $4 is no longer a viable marketing tool. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

“But the equity and ownership of the Six Dollar Burger has long been established, and consumers equate it to big-burger value,” he said, “which is why nearly every burger competitor has introduced their high-profit big burger.” —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

Morris contends that there is “too much equity” in the Six Dollar name to change it now, so long as the price remains below $6. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

“The day the menu price moves north of $6, game over,” Morris said. “So I suspect that this will never happen. It would really create bad press and customer protest.” —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

Consultant Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of Columbus, Ohio-based WD Partners, however, contends that the “pinch point” is near and that inflation will eventually force CKE’s hand. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

“To call it a Six Dollar burger when it is actually $8.50 would be problematic,” he said. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

CKE could “co-name” the item for a transitional period, the way Datsun cars became “Datsun/Nissan,” then “Nissan/Datsun” before shifting the name entirely to “Nissan,” he suggested. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

Marketing engineers at CKE must have known the Six Dollar ride would come to a rebranding end, he added. —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at

“It was only a matter of time,” Lombardi said. “But it served them well over the years. It hasn’t had the life of iconic brands like the Big Mac or the Whopper, but it has had an incredibly long run.”— [email protected] [6] —At a time when the intangible message of value is paramount in the quick-service world, one menu item stands out as the poster child for the ongoing struggle to find the right price: the Six Dollar Burger at