Skip navigation
Carl's Jr.

Carl’s Jr. breaks up with Hardee’s

It’s a conscious uncoupling

Today, Carl’s Jr launches The Call of Carl’s, the brand’s first Carl’s-only national campaign. The campaign marks a shift for the brand’s parent company CKE Restaurants Holdings Inc., which had for nearly two decades worked to merge their Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s brands.

“We’re evolving the brand in a number of ways,” said Jason Marker, CKE’s CEO.

“And probably the single biggest thing since I’ve come on board have been the separation of two brands, and believing there are two distinct voices for the restaurants."

For these new commercials, the voice of Carl’s Jr will be played by Matthew McConaughey, who lends his voice to the campaign. The Call of Carl’s is a multi-channel campaign with a bright burger-focused commercial. The campaign was created by the company’s new creative agency partner, Havas.

“We look at them as two regionally iconic brands,” said Marker. “We think they have distinct customers, I often talk to people [and say] these brands grew up very differently. And they stand for very different things.”

The company’s new campaign, although energetic and youthful, is a far cry from the bikini models who were featured in Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s advertising under Puzder. And that’s by design, said Marker.

Soon after Marker took over the company released a commercial where a fictional Carl Hardee Sr. returns to company headquarters to oust his son who let who was responsible for the “hot chick” ads and letting things “get a little weird.”

As for those bikini babes of previous campaigns, Marker said, “We obviously do not believe that is an appropriate campaign for today. So what we need to do though is hold on to that unique edge and opportunity that we have and build on it in a relevant, contemporary way.”

Carl’s hasn’t forgotten its target audience of “young, hungry guys.” But it is trying to get with the times, too.

“We have a fantastic core userbase with these brands that we will never lose sight of,” said Marker. “And we believe that this [campaign] will appeal to them more than ever. However, we have to make sure that the way we commercialize the brand positioning has broad appeal.

“We don’t want to ostracized a gender group, and, of course, the reality is with these strong legacy brands you have to always ensure you remain relevant to up-and-coming user groups.”

Marker came to CKE last year from Kentucky Fried Chicken U.S., where as president, he oversaw the legacy brand’s wildly successful marketing campaigns and positioning featuring Colonel Sanders.

Carl’s Jr. was started in California in 1941 and has maintained a Western, laid-back vibe even as it has expanded nationally and globally. Hardee’s, the company’s sister brand with locations in the Southern and Midwestern states, was acquired by CKE in 1997.

Soon after Carl’s menu items and iconographic started appearing at Hardee’s. But now about a year after Marker replaced longtime CEO Andy Puzder, the brand is getting a refresh and an identity of its own. (Puzder, CEO since 2000, left after an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Secretary of Labor.)

The company will reveal Hardee’s makeover in a few weeks said Marker. Their campaign will focus on Hardee’s “Southern classic brand” and “food that feeds the soul,” said Marker.

To sum up the two brands, Marker said, “Carl’s is about boldness. Hardee’s is about authenticity.”

As for the Red Burrito and Green Burrito brands, which are separate brands acquired by CKE, and are frequently added to the menu at Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s respectively, these brands “are not emphasized heavily within this [campaign],” said Marker.

“They are effectively part of the menu offering but we are focused heavily on the brand Hardee’s and the brand Carl’s Jr., not the co-branded components.”

The Call of Carl’s campaign, will include new distinct menu items for Carl’s Jr. and Hardee's. And the campaign comes at a time of growth for the company. In January, the company added 23 new Carl’s Jr. locations around the world. Today, Carl's Jr. and Hardee's have over 3,800 franchised or company-operated restaurants in 44 states and 43 foreign countries. 

Contact Gloria Dawson at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @gloriadawson

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.