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Middle America Stars in Hardee’s ‘Re-Launch’


In a new ad campaign, Hardee’s is being “re-launched” with messaging directed right at the brand’s Middle America niche.

The brand hasn’t gotten a lot of attention lately as CKE Restaurants has focused marketing on the Carl’s Jr. brand, the second pillar of the CKE burger empire. The company and its new marketing partner Havas Creative focused the initial campaign on the western states where Carl’s Junior is located.

Now it’s jumping across the east-west border that separates the two brands and focusing on “comfort culture” described by CMO Jeff Jenkins.

“No fast food brand has ‘comfort culture’ more core to its DNA than Hardee’s,” said Jenkins. “Just like we’re pushing ‘crave culture’ forward with Carl’s Jr., we’re going to use this new campaign to introduce customers to ‘comfort culture’ at Hardee’s, placing a heavy emphasis on local pride and quality food."

In a 2015 examination of the brand differences, the differences in region and markets are pretty clear. 

Hardee's, which got it start in Greenville, North Carolina, in 1960 has carved a niche in small towns across America. And that’s where it still resonates—the average Hardee’s is still surrounded by around 4,000 people. Carl’s Jr., which started in Los Angeles in 1941, maintains its West Coast legacy and much more urban markets. It’s surrounded by an average of 15,000 people.

While there were some rocky attempts to combine the two under the Carl’s Jr. flag in the late 1990s, it just didn’t work—small-town America is just in the Hardee’s DNA. CKE opted to pursue a dual-brand strategy ever since. In 2013, private equity firm Roark acquired the brand and continued with both brands.

The new marketing campaigns under Havas reinforce those brand differentiators, but develop “impossible to ignore” personas for each brand. The initial campaign with the marketing agency featured the voice of Hollywood favorite Matthew McConaughey. The new campaign features “hick hop” (think rap mashed together with country) artist hybrid Big Wet, who’s known for rapping about folksy things like shot-gunning beers, trucks and smoking pot with his squad—all while wearing a cowboy hat. The initial marketing spot is a hearty slice of trucks, open fields and salt-of-the-earth folks chowing down on Hardee’s. Jason Peterson, chief creative officer at Havas said it’s a celebration of small-town America.

“Hardee’s is part of the fabric of a modern American culture,” said Peterson. “It’s a reflection of a contemporary society in America that isn’t celebrated often enough.”

The restaurants are also getting a “revived look and feel” and some new menu items that feature Hardee’s “handmade process” and regional menu items. The company didn’t elaborate on what that meant, but expect at least a fresh coat of paint and some indulgent LTOs.

You can watch the initial marketing spot below. And while it may seem like a heavy handed dose of rural stereotypes of trucks, jeans and bowling, it continues the evolution of the  marketing. The parent company moved away from the skimpy models and in-your-face sexuality in recent years and this is another smart step away from those prior marketing efforts.

Is it a touching portrait of rural values or akin to someone yelling "'Merica" while holding a burger? Probably somewhere in between, but at least it's not offensive. 

Take a look at the initial Hardee’s marketing spot below:

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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at




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