As Carl’s Jr. and Hardees seeks to distance itself from the scantily clad advertising it churned out like clockwork in recent years, it’s cooking up new ways to sell consumers on a more wholesome new image—like smashing a giant butt piñata with a tractor.
For its latest marketing from 72andSunny, the fast-food chain sent its new spokesperson, the fictional Carl Hardee Sr., to the desert with objects designed to represent the brand’s leering past, as symbolized by his wayward son, Carl Hardee Jr. There, with help from YouTube explosion experts The Slow Mo Guys and real-time input from viewers on the live-streaming site Twitch, the brand team set about destroying those artifacts in spectacular fashion.
They blew up boxes of bikinis, torched vats of tanning oil, and sett Junior’s ex-girlfriend loose with a baseball bat on a display full of perfume.
Titled “The Purge,” it’s a fun little spinoff of Carl Jr.’s and Hardee’s new positioning, which the brand rolled out late last month. In a high-profile three-minute ad, Hardee Sr. stormed the company’s offices, after a long (unexplained) absence, to reclaim its culture from his offspring’s juvenile sensibilities, and restore it to its beef-and-bacon focused roots.
While there’s certainly a more refined sense of humor baked into in the new direction, the marketer is still playing for a young, male-skewing demographic. (Twitch’s content focuses on gaming, a popular niche among that set.) And it’s still doing it with a brash, irreverent sensibility.
Generally, the brand is smart to poke fun at itself by casting its past actions as those of a man-child. In this execution, it’s clever enough to replace the unflattering lowest common denominator of hyper-sexualized, shamelessly objectified women with Michael Bay-style pyrotechnics and a thick dose of absurdity. Spouts of fire and shattering glass mixed with extreme stupidity are also likely to grab the attention of its fan base, if perhaps with slightly less primitive, slavering urgency than its previous tack (which was not necessarily a good sales strategy).
That said, there’s also an element of have-your-burger-and-eat-it-too to the approach. Carl’s Jr./Hardees wants to signal a clean break with its past, and is owning its mistakes while also distancing itself from them. But it’s a message with limited runway—the brand is still playing on the equity attached to its era of boob-centric spending, and thereby relying on it.
An oversized papier mâché ass is too ridiculous to be selling sex, but it isn’t exactly not selling it, either. The real question is where the brand goes next.