Carl’s Jr Tempts Young, Hungry Guys with ‘Spicy’ Viral

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Two years after its infamous Paris Hilton ads (briefly) smattered the airwaves and roused some controversy in 2005, fast-food chain Carl’s Jr. is back with a new—albeit, slightly less controversial—ad campaign for its new Buffalo Chicken Sandwich.

While inexorable socialite Paris is nowhere to be seen on this go-around, Carl’s Jr is once again using the “sex sells” approach for its broadcast/online effort, this time enlisting the services of model/actress Ashley Hartman. Leveraging the TV promotions already in place, interactive agency of record Spacedog created a viral-focused microsite, Spicybuffalo.com, which is only the second one ever made for Carl’s Jr.

“Mendelsohn/Zien, the traditional agency that does all [Carl Jr’s] TV and radio, had crafted a strategy that already sold through three spots,” Wayne Robins, Spacedog’s creative director, explains to ADOTAS. “So, what we did is we worked with the same actress that they’re using in their first launched TV spot, Ashley Hartman. So, she was going to be the virtual host for our microsite. We needed to aesthetically keep everything true to what had been established for the brand, very clean, very minimal, and almost like [they’re] the luxury of the fast-food/QSR category…the way they position themselves as ‘the $6 burger.’

Skimpily attired, the fetching blonde guides visitors through her variety of poses and moods, giving them the opportunity to “make a lunch date” with her, and send personalized greetings to friends asking them to tag along for lunch at a Carl’s Jr or Hardees, marking the first tim.

“That’s our viral component,” says Robins. “With ‘Lunch Date’, we ended up shooting just a little bit under a thousand video clips. Nine-hundred of them [feature] names, so we took the most popular names in North America with some different ethnicities and really try to tailor to our audience, both male and female. So when you send this lunch invitation to friend, it’s speaking directly to them. What it does is it really just invites the individual to lunch, it shows them the sandwich, and there’s a little bit of comedy and entertainment injected in the middle there and through the copy so hopefully the utility doesn’t override the entertainment.”

Adding to the mix is not only Carl’s famed burger drop visual, but also a guy maybe not familiar by name, but definitely known through his voiceover work, Phil Buckman, who has been the voice of the brand for the last several years and serves as the site’s narrator as well.

The “Spicy Buffalo” interactive site, which was initially conceived in November, launched just prior to the Oscars telecast last Sunday, and according to Robins, is a direct digital extension of Carl’s Jr and Mendelsohn/Zien’s traditional vision. “Our primary goal was to sell the sandwich, first and foremost,” Robins insists. “It’s front and center, and it’s really the star in scale on the site. It’s the first thing you see, it’s the set-up, and it’s the color palette for the entire site.”

Also included on the site is a store locator and more interestingly, a ‘$1 off ‘downloadable coupon, an element that Robins feels is missing in many similar microsites these days. “A lot of interactive advertising, some of the stuff we’ve seen, while it’s compelling entertainment, sometimes they’re missing the direct marketing call to action. We’ve got this medium where you can have these one-to-one interactions, yet sometimes we forget to push that direct message. It’s the coupon, and we can actually track it, track the sales of the sandwich, and see how effective our communications are.”

It’s this communicative approach that drove Robins and his creative team, which laid down three goals for Spicybuffalo.com. “We do pepper coupons through everything that we do in hopes that it actually does monitor our primary goal, which is to sell the sandwich. Secondary is creating a compelling, entertaining rich media experience online that can hold the audience captive for more than thirty seconds. We’re not limited by time constraints of the broadcast medium, and if we can create something that can engage their imagination for longer than 30 seconds, then that’s a home run. The third goal was [making] a viral. It’s a buzzword that’s always thrown out there, but it’s really just peer-to-peer file sharing.”

Externally, online, expandable banners (below) on major sites like Yahoo, AOL and MSN featuring some eye-opening, alluring imagery are being implemented to drive traffic to the site. “Our banners are teasers in the sense that they’re expandable,” says Robins. “Ashley walks out in the white background, blows a kiss, drops something, and bends over to pick it up. That’s our positioning.”

No pun intended I’m sure, but it is the sexual innuendo that is Carl’s Jr’s MO and something that’s ideal to reach its core audience. “They use sex to sell burgers,” Robins states bluntly. ‘Young, hungry guys’ are who we’re appealing to. It worked with Paris, and they were trying to do that again to a certain extent with a lesser known. If we can do remotely close, that would be a very good thing.”

Robins says the site is planned to stay live for six months, the expected duration of the Buffalo chicken sandwich, which will be sold simultaneously in Carl’s Jr and sister company Hardees. While it might not have the instant infamy of the Paris push or offer a ton of interactive goodies to chew on, the “Spicy Ashley” spot could have some shelf-life all its own thanks to its new, ahem, tour guide and some decent engagement points.

As Robins himself says, “We’re trying to sell the sandwiches, but if we don’t do it in an entertaining way, it’s never going to viral…or successful.”

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