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Jennifer Tate who joined CKE Restaurants in September, is focusing on the different strengths of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s.

CKE Restaurants chief marketing officer Jennifer Tate wins big with Carl’s Jr. burger giveaway

Separating that brand’s image from Hardee’s has yielded positive results for both restaurants

CKE Restaurants has long been the parent company of two quick-service restaurant brands: Carl’s Jr., and Hardee’s. Sometimes it treats those two sister concepts like identical twins, and at other times it chooses to focus on their different strengths.

Jennifer Tate, who joined the Franklin, Tenn.-based company in September, is taking the latter route. 

“I grew up going to Carl’s Jr.,” said Tate, who went to junior high, high school, and college in Carl’s stronghold of Southern California.

“Back in the day when I knew Carl’s, they had this quirky sense of humor. They were a little bit off. Hardee’s is a much more down-to-earth, authentic, Main Street USA — a very wholesome small-town America brand, which is wonderful. And I think it kind of tamed the crazy beast that used to be Carl’s Jr,” Tate said.

The two chains also operate in different markets. Carl’s is mostly in the West, where its irreverent approach to brand positioning, perhaps most memorably with racy adds featuring scantily clad women eating burgers in or on luxury cars, resonated with its target demographic of “young hungry males,” as Tate described them.

Hardee’s is mostly in the South and Midwest and has a wholesome image. It highlights its Made from Scratch Biscuits and hand-breaded chicken tenders.

Tate and her team kicked off their brand separation with a Super Bowl ad offering everyone who joined Carl’s Jr.’s loyalty program a free Western Bacon Cheeseburger on the day after the game. 

The 30-second spot was a fighter jet scene reminiscent of the Top Gun films with a pilot rushing to get his free burger. Simultaneously the brand “leaked” a spoof training website with bogus advice for managing unruly throngs of customers, such as blowing them away with powerful electric fans, defending themselves with trays, and sheltering under tables.  

Tate also appeared in a YouTube video assuring viewers that “everything is 100% probably under control.”

“We just wanted to let Carl’s be a little off-the-wall again,” Tate told Nation’s Restaurant News.

The chain also recruited influencers to promote the giveaway on social media, starting on the Thursday before the big game. 

“This Super Bowl promotion marked a pretty serious investment on our part of partnering with influencers, and we found that to be so successful that we will be returning to those types of strategies for the future, because we really reached so many people that I don’t think we would have before — in particular by being part of TikTok’s Top Feed. We were able to go from 0 to 12 million views overnight. … You could run a lot of ads before you hit 12 million young hungry males.”

It was a resounding success.

“[One of] our two big objectives were to get a bunch of delicious burgers in hungry mouths, and we certainly did that. We gave away a couple hundred thousand burgers, which was awesome, and we gained a lot of new fans,” Tate said.

“Our other big objective was to bring in a lot more members to our loyalty program,” and they did that too: More than 200,000 people joined the loyalty program on that day, a big jump from its previous membership of around one million members.

“So almost a 20% increase in one day. That’s a big success for a promotion,” she said, adding that around 187,000 of those new members are still active.

Tate said we’re not likely to see scantily clad supermodels posing with the burgers anytime soon, but Carl’s Jr. will continue its somewhat zany brand positioning, likely with spots across media channels, from network TV to TikTok, showing the lengths that fans will go to get their mouths around the chain’s food.

As for Hardee’s, Tate plans to leverage its heritage of partnering with country and other musical artists, as well as college athletes.

“Our Hardee’s fans are big regional college football fans, so we might look into that,” she said.

“Both are brands are doing much better post-separation. Hardee’s in particular is having a great rebound — some really positive results.” 


Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] 

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