ST. LOUIS – A racy TV ad featuring a swimsuit-clad Paris Hilton (search) eating a burger and washing a Bentley (search), which sparked a controversy when it aired on the West Coast, is now coming to markets in the Midwest and Southeast.
Despite protests from the Los Angeles-based Parents Television Council — whose spokeswoman last month referred to the ad as "basically soft-core porn" — CKE Restaurants Inc. has no plans to tone down the spot.
The ad, which originally touted the Spicy BBQ Six Dollar Burger for CKE's Carl's Jr. chain, will begin airing the week of June 27 in the Midwest and Southeast, this time to promote the Spicy BBQ Thickburger from CKE's Hardee's chain.
Brad Haley, a marketing vice president for the Carl's Jr. and Hardee's chains, said CKE planned all along to use the commercial to sell burgers for both restaurant chains. The Hardee's chain is based in St. Louis.
"We consider it a racy ad. It was designed to be a racy ad, but we don't consider it pornographic," he said.
In the ad, Hilton lathers up and cavorts with a running hose. It features a line often associated with Hilton: "That's hot."
Haley said, "I think we knew that when we ran Paris, she would create attention. That was part of the appeal of using her."
Haley said it's too soon to say how the ad has influenced Carl's Jr. burger sales, but noted it clearly has had an impact on viewers. He said a Carl's Jr. Web site, and a special Spicy Paris site, have received millions of hits.
The ad will run after 9 p.m. in the Midwest and Southeast, where Hardee's has more than 2,000 restaurants, Haley said. He said the Carl's Jr. ad ran earlier than 9 p.m. the first week it aired. The reason, he said, was to introduce it and to allow it to be seen more broadly during sweeps week. Then, it moved to a later time slot, as planned, he said.
Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council (search) watchdog group, said council members have sent thousands of letters complaining about the ad. To his view, shifting the ad to a later time was an acknowledgment by CKE that the commercial had offended many.
"Marketing plan, my eye," he said. "Our group's position is that this company ought to be ashamed of itself."
Bozell acknowledged that the Parents Television Council may have added "oxygen" to the firestorm over the ad in the short term, but believed in the long term those who are offended will stay away from Carl's Jr. and Hardee's.
Hilton's publicist, Rob Shuter, said the socialite turned celebrity and businesswoman did the ads because she thought they were funny — and hot.
Shares of Carpinteria, Calif.-based CKE fell 10 cents to $16.09 Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares have traded in a 52-week range of $10.40 to $17.15.