Why Carl's Jr. and Paris Hilton Are Doing It Right

David Kiley

When was the last time consumers were really yacking about burger chain Carl's Jr., the retaurants operated by CKE Restasurants, before it launcherd the controversial ad featuring Paris Hilton slithering all over a Bentley automobile and munching a burger?

Now we hear that CKE is launching new home pages for Carl's and Hardees where it takes the buzz of the Paris ad and turns them into cyber versions of "The Man Show." The new home pages for the burger chains conjure up images of the living room of a bachelor pad, the sort of place I imagine Joe Namath and David Hasselhoff might live. The place is full of product placements too. Products from Motorola are in the room, and an Olevia flat screen TV plays trailers for upcoming movies from Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema, as well as the Paris Hilton ad. Vans, Napster, Vans and Maxim magazine also advertise their wares on the site. The site also has a cyber-wallet containing a "Club Paris" napkin with a phone number that when reached gives the caller humorous rejections via www.gotrejected.com, an online voice-mail service.

Judging from the dozens and dozens of comments received by this blog both condemning the original Paris ad and Carl's Jr. and the ones telling the naysayers to "lighten up," I'd say CKE was on to something.

Think of it this way. I was dining recently with the head of product development of Chrysler who was talking about the company's success with the 300, Dodge Magnum and new Dodge Charger. I told him that as I drove up on the Magnum wagon, I commented to my wife that I really liked it and would consider it for my next set of wheels. My wife immediately commented how much she seriously disliked the car's looks. "Looks like a gangster's car," she said. My dining companion said. "Perfect." At Chrysler, he explained, they are looking for 60%-70 of people to really like a design, and the other 30% or so to seriously dislike it. The danger, he said, is in creating products about which 90%+ of the public simply shrug their shoulders out of apathy.

Brad Haley, head of marketing for both Carl's and Hardees says the company has set out to build a lifestyle-oriented site that would put people in "an idealized young male consumer’s world.” It doesn't make sense for this company, with far fewer ad dollars than McDonald's, Burher King or Wendy's to chase the family-kids-Mom market.

Is the Paris Hilton ad, and pandering to young male's baser instincts for fun, good for society? That's subjective. But I'm sure it's not lost on CKE that Sirius Radio, for example, is betting hundreds of millions on Howard Stern to drive listeners to its fledgling sattelite radio service.

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