Just in time for New Year’s resolutions, Carl’s Jr. -- known more for burger and fries packing nearly 1,000 calories -- is launching a new line of grilled chicken salads, fronted by reality star Kim Kardashian.
Ads from Mendelsohn|Zien break next week on the fast-food company’s Facebook page  and YouTube channel , and on television across Carl’s Jr. Western markets. The pitch also includes a digital component, from 72andSunny: Kardashian will host The Ultimate Salad Lunch Date, a live event on Jan. 13, where consumers can chat with her via a Webcam. To do so they’ve had to buy one of the new salads between Dec. 30 and Jan. 12, which gives them the access code. (No code is required to watch the streaming video lunch.) There is also an augmented reality element, with a 3D Kardashian inviting consumers to lunch as she blows kisses, twirls and strikes poses.
“For the better part of the last two years, we’ve had a digital component but this is more of an extensive one because of the popularity of Kim Kardashian on the Web,” said Brad Haley, evp of marketing for Carl’s Jr. “She’s already a big celebrity in the digital space and has a huge social media following.” (For instance, Kardashian has 2.7 million followers on Twitter and 562,000 fans on Facebook.)
Carl’s Jr., of course, is no stranger to the erotic use of au courant female celebrities, having used Paris Hilton, cook show reality host Padma Lakshmi and The Hills star, Audrina Patridge, to seductively eat the chain’s burgers in commercials. The use of Kardashian to make salads sexy comes as Carl’s Jr. -- with its base in the battered California economy -- reaches out to attract female consumers. The chain has taken a hit even as fast-food competitors register gains in the recession. Through Nov. 30, same-store sales have fallen 5.7 percent compared to the year-ago period.
“Guys love Kim and women really like her because she’s a real woman with curves,” said Justin Hooper, a creative director at M|Z, who worked on the spots.
In recent years, Carl’s Jr. has been more associated with unapologetically caloric products like the Kentucky Bourbon Six Dollar Burger (970 calories) and Chili Cheese Fries (990 calories) than health-conscious fare. Still, the company said it was the first fast-food operator to offer a salad bar in 1974 and later introduced premium packaged salads like a Charbroiled Grilled Chicken Salad in 1988. That menu item has been updated in the current launch, along with a Southwestern version and one including items like cranberries, apples, walnuts and feta, which weighs in at comparatively low 450 calories. The launch of the salads now -- usually a popular summer offering -- fits with the chain’s contrarian philosophy, as evidenced in its premium pricing strategy and embrace of rich menu items. Meanwhile, competitors discount and bow to pressure from health advocates.
“In the first quarter, after everyone is tapped out after spending for Christmas, fast-food chains traditionally discount, even more than usual given this economy,” said Haley. "This is a zig while they zag. Rather than compete with a 99-cent double cheeseburger like everyone else, we’re going out with a premium-priced entrée [which costs] close to five dollars.”
Recently, Kardashian, also a spokesperson for diet aid Quick Trim, has been dieting and tweeting regularly about it. In the TV spot, the buxom negligee-clad reality star is shown in one of her “favorite pastimes” -- having a “bed picnic” while salivating over a Carl Jr.’s salad before getting “all messy” and taking a bubble bath.
"What makes this different is that it’s a salad, which is not associated with indulgence,” said Mick DiMaria, another M|Z creative director who co-created the commercial. “We make it indulgent. Kim is pretty much advertising gold."