Thursday, June 25, 2009

Restaurant chains' new marketing guru: Larry Flynt

Fast-food chains have been trying all sorts of sideshows to keep the main attraction going, from brewing better coffee to licensing their logos for retail products. But they’ve been oblivious to the big opportunity, even though it’s familiar turf: Porn. All they’d have to do is start charging for a “Chains Gone Wild” DVD, instead of rolling the T&A for free in commercials and promos.

Consider, for instance, the campaign that Burger King will air in Singapore to support the local rollout of a new value meal, the Super Seven Incher. Right now you’re no doubt thinking, “How could anyone turn a name like that into something dicey?” Amazingly, the chain that brought us the notorious Square Butt video has managed to find a way.

“It’ll Blow/Your Mind Away,” reads an ad for the new sandwich, which is basically a hero-shaped burger. The ad, as shown this morning on Gawker, depicts a young woman in silhouette, her mouth agape Linda Lovelace-style, about to engulf the Seven Incher.

The price shown in the ad is $6.25, as in U.S. dollars. The woman pictured is Caucasian. The copy is all in English. But Gawker posted an e-mail from BK that explained the ad would only run in Singapore, and only for a limited time.

I guess the chain should be given some slack because of what it was offering. Hero-style sandwiches just seem to bring out the hidden 15-year-olds in marketers. Quiznos, for instance, should’ve put a giggly laugh track behind the commercials for its 13-inch-long Torpedo heros. In perhaps the most infamous installment, an oven tells a worker, “Put it in me, Scott.” Scott balks, asserting he’ll never do it again because he was burned last time. But the oven prevails in his pleading that Scott say something in a sexier voice.

But that seems more like a National Lampoon parody than the blatant pole dancing of Carl’s Jr.’s spots. The chain’s parent, CKE Restaurants, has definitely cut through the clutter with its female spokespersons, starting with Paris Hilton and her infamous car washing in a bikini.

More recently, commercials showed the lovely Padma Lakshmi as she all but had a conjugal visit with a Carl’s burger, described in a voice-over as “more than just a piece of meat.”

No doubt Lakshmi was hired because of her two cookbooks, her knowledge of food, and her connection to the literary world (she was married to novelist Salman Rushdie). Given how much cleavage is shown, there might’ve been two other reasons for her casting.

Today, Carl's revealed that it's showcasing a new spokes-hottie in its commercials, TV sensation Audrina Patridge of"The Hills." She's in a straining bikini on a beach, savoring Carl's latest promotional sandwich, the Teriyaki Burger.

Maybe the sauciness of recent fast-food advertising is part of the industry’s obvious back-to-basics yen. Simple desserts are in vogue again, molecular gastronomy seems to be losing its mainstream hold, classic cocktails continue to win new converts, and burgers are the product of the moment in the full-service sector.

Why not a little cheesecake with the burgers?

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