Carl’s Jr. is starved for attention

For years, CKE’s Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s brands have been known as much for the models in their ads as for anything they have done in the kitchen. It seems their young, male audience liked the ads quite a bit. Or at least paid attention. The ads aren’t just famous for having slim, carefully lit women in bikinis eating their burgers. They’re also famous for hiring very relevant women in bikinis eating their burgers. Heidi Klum, Paris Hilton and Kate Upton are just a few of the ladies employed by the brand(s) and always at just the right time in their career. They even featured Kim Kardashian in an ad (for salads) earlier in her rise to fame when the audience wasn’t seeing her literally everywhere.

Former CEO Andrew Puzder credits the approach with helping to ‘save the brand.’ But as Carl’s Jr. flags along with most of the industry, the shift is on. The brand is moving on aggressively. They’re using a new cast of characters of their own design to destroy to old elements of the brand, such as “bikinis.”

Commenters held the show hostage until the actor held a shoe on his head

The site on which the video is hosted tells you more about the confusion Carl’s Jr. is facing. Twitch, the extremely popular streaming video site for gamers and other growing niche interests was chosen most likely for the cool factor and separation from Google. As the number of views tells you, this approach is far different from their Superbowl spots. The ongoing fragmentation of TV and media is driving down their ability to reach a large swath of their audience with impact.

This is precisely why many smaller brands have turned to influencers. Influencers are hand-picked to appeal to each of the fragments of the audience that brands were once able to reach with TV every Thursday without fail. People perk up momentarily to hear what an influencer passes through their stream of content about style, food or brands. It’s a way to make a message a bit more attention worthy to a focused group. This is how marketing and advertising is evolving on the internet.

But especially on a channel like Twitch, where content is authentic and rarely staged, it’s not the place to stage a show about blowing up the old brand assets. In fact, the content of the show – actors portraying the titular Carl Jr. and his father Carl Sr. along with a wider cast of characters – is more akin to the kind of creative that would have made sense on TV. But it feels out of place and awkward on Twitch. The viewcount supports that. The top video in the set has under 15,000 views; smaller than the worst TV ad the brand has ever run. And those views are for a video clip in which the commenters held the show hostage until the actor held a shoe on his head.

Curiously, the brand had the formula for the internet age even before Twitch was invented. No, not nearly nude models eating messy fast food. This is not about the oddly sexist content of their past TV ads. But attention hacking with names their audience knew – or certainly found worth Googling – was the formula most brands are embracing online. Carl’s Jr. is pivoting to a branded version of “Arrested Development” for an audience that watches more streaming videogames than long-form television.

Right now, brands are still comparing impressions evenly and feeling that any attention is good attention. Time will tell if the strategy pays off.