Leaders of the Carl’s Jr. Account Are Leaving 72andSunny as Client Looks to Change Creative Direction

By Patrick Coffee Comment

The relationship between Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s and its creative agency of record, 72andSunny, is evolving.

Today the shop confirmed that group creative directors Justin Hooper and Mick DiMaria will be leaving later this year, and multiple sources tell us that the decision stemmed from discussions regarding the burger chain’s famously suggestive advertising campaigns and potential alternative directions for future work.

Agency co-founder and chief creative officer Glenn Cole provided the following statement:

“Justin and Mick plan to part ways with 72andSunny at the end of the year. We are extremely grateful for their contributions over the past 5 years, including a body of work for Truth that has led to Effies, Cannes Lions, and a significant reduction in teen smoking, as well as iconic work for Carl‘s Jr, Hardee’s, Activision, and other 72andSunny clients. This is a mutual decision and we remain good friends. We look forward to seeing what they will embark upon next.”

Group brand director Mike Parseghian, who had been temporarily running the account for several months while the primary director was out, has also left, though we hear his departure is not directly related to that of Hooper and DiMaria. As noted in Cole’s quote above, they ran creative for Truth and several other clients during their five year tenure at 72andSunny. At least one party tells us that the announcement this week came as a surprise to most members of the group.

The specific reason for this move is unclear, and Carl’s Jr. has not made any recent staffing changes within its marketing department, where Brad Haley has served as CMO since 2011. But there has been disagreement regarding the effectiveness of the chain’s tendency to combine scantily clad women with overstuffed burgers, a trend that began with Paris Hilton in 2005 and went on to include such celebrities as Kim Kardashian and fighter Ronda Rousey.

Last May, Haley told the Wall Street Journal that “We advertise in a way that appeals our target–young, hungry guys,” and CEO Andrew Puzder has famously said, “If you don’t complain, I go to the head of marketing and say, ‘What’s wrong with our ads?'” Around the same time last year, however, research firm Ameritest promoted a study which claimed that the millions of YouTube views racked up by Carl’s Jr. ads don’t necessarily translate into sales and that customers are more interested in coupons than cleavage. The chain may have noted that point as its recent spots have diverged from the norm, alternately focusing on suggestive fungi, New York pretzels and characters like rapper and former GS&P employee Lil Dickey.

Hooper and DiMaria have been working with Carl’s Jr. for some time, starting on the business while they were with Santa Monica’s Mendelsohn Zien. The client’s parent company CKE, which had worked with MZ for 16 years, put the account in review right after the creative pair left to join 72andSunny in 2010 and picked David & Goliath as its new AOR, but that relationship ended up lasting less than a year as a 72andSunny team led by Hooper and DiMaria won the business in December 2011 without a review.

One reliable source tells us that there have been internal disagreements regarding the Carl’s Jr. work at 72andSunny. Some staffers allegedly objected to the infamous Charlotte McKinney Super Bowl ad and brought it up in an agency meeting last year to voice their dissent. The same source says that the client and agency may not be an ideal match, and it’s true that the Carls’ Jr. work is far more bro-centric than that of most of 72andSunny’s clients, including a newly empowered Coors Light.

All parties who have contacted us say that CKE plans to continue working with 72andSunny but has voiced interest in making changes to its marketing strategy. We reached out to CKE’s PR department regarding this change last week, but they have so far declined to comment.

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