Its agency is one of the more sophisticated out there. And ads about female empowerment are on the rise. So why does Carl's Jr. remain stubbornly Neanderthal, continuing its now decade-long obsession with half-naked women sex-eating its product?
Well, let's look at the numbers.
The fast-food chain shares some impressive data today about its regional Super Bowl commercial starring the relatively unknown (until now) 21-year-old Floridian model Charlotte McKinney. It turns out the chain's most naked-est ad ever (at least, that's the faux premise through most of the spot) is also its most successful in quickly generating views and shares.
The ad, by 72andSunny—titled "Au Naturel" and pushing the All-Natural Burger—has been watched 9.4 million times on YouTube, and the campaign has generated a staggering 2.5 billion media impressions in less than two weeks, the company tells Adweek exclusively. Both metrics far outpace anything Carl's Jr. has done in the past—including famous ads with Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Kate Upton and Nina Agdal.
Despite airing in only the western half of the U.S. during the game, the ad also ranks as the third most shared Super Bowl spot across all social media networks, according to Shift Communications. Also, McKinney took over the Carl's Jr. Twitter handle during the Super Bowl and helped to generate more than 4,500 Carl's Jr.-related tweets totaling more than 41 million impressions.
In other words, the target audience of young males isn't tiring of the approach. And judging by the goofy Austin Powers-esque creative of the McKinney ad, it's quite the opposite: The more (comically) risqué, the better.
"Carl's Jr. has long been famous for not only developing innovative burgers and other menu items that are new to fast food, but for advertising them in a way that our target audience of 'Young Hungry Guys' can't seem to get enough of," Brad Haley, chief marketing officer for Carl's Jr., said in a statement.
"However, the success of our Super Bowl ad starring the lovely Charlotte McKinney is unprecedented. … Congratulations and thanks to Charlotte for using her sense of humor, acting talent and stunning good looks to create a bit of fast-food advertising history with us. We wish her well on what I'm sure will be a very successful career."
Of all the hubbub, McKinney herself said in a statement: "It's been so surreal starring in the recent Carl's Jr. Super Bowl ad. They're such an iconic brand featuring so many different women over the years, and I feel fortunate to be a part of this campaign."
Most important, Carl's Jr. says the product itself is moving swiftly. Since its launch in Dec. 17, sales of the All-Natural Burger have exceeded forecasts every week, per the company, and were strongest to date during the week of the Super Bowl.
"It's clear that there is not only interest in more natural menu options, but also in the kind of breakthrough advertising Carl's Jr. and sister chain Hardee's create to promote our new menu items," Haley said.
No one else would call it breakthrough advertising, but don't expect Carl's Jr. to change tactics anytime soon.