Outgoing Carl’s Jr. CEO Says Sexy Ads No Longer ‘Have as Much of an Impact’

Andrew Puzder takes credit for the brand shift

The burger brand flipped the script in its new campaign from 72andSunny. Carl's Jr
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

Andrew Puzder will soon step down as CEO of Carl’s Jr., but he definitely has some thoughts on the recent and dramatic shift in the chain’s marketing efforts.

This week, the burger brand debuted a new campaign from creative agency of record 72andSunny in which it completely flipped the script on its famously risqué ads, introducing a new character, Carl Hardee Jr., and all but blaming more than a decade of PG-13 rated advertising on Carl Hardee Sr.’s ne’er-do-well son.

In an unusual appearance on Fox Business Network’s Varney & Co. today, Puzder took credit for the change and expressed confidence in his successor, former KFC president Jason Marker.

Puzder said he approached 72andSunny in 2015 and said, “Look, young hungry guys aren’t as affected by the racy ads with swimsuit models because you can get a lot of that on the internet now. … [The ads] don’t have as much of an impact.”

Past campaigns starred everyone from Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian to model Charlotte McKinney, who appeared in the chain’s 2015 Super Bowl effort.

But Puzder told host Stuart Varney that times have changed.

“You and I may certainly like the ads we’ve been running a long time, but the younger guys can get that on the internet,” Puzder said. “They are more interested in where your beef is from. … You can get sex on the internet—you don’t need a Carl’s Jr. or Hardee’s ad.”

Puzder’s statements back up claims from multiple sources that the agency and client had long been at odds over the heavily sexualized ads. In October, 72andSunny parted ways with the two group creative directors who’d been leading the account for years and then released a decidedly subdued campaign focused on ingredients. Puzder also claimed that Carl’s Jr. remains “the only national brand with all-natural beef, all-natural chicken, charbroiling, pan scooping.”

Just over a week ago, the former lawyer announced his plans to retire after withdrawing his nomination for Labor secretary under President Trump. Puzder spent more than 16 years leading CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s.

“[Marker] may decide to go back [to the sexy ads],” Puzder told Varney today. “Look, if this doesn’t work, it’s on me. But I think this is what we needed to do to continue to bring in these young hungry guys—not older hungry guys like you and me.”

A 72andSunny spokesperson declined to comment for this story.

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.