Trendwire, June 26, 2008

Trendwire, June 26, 2008

Food & Drink

Trendwire, June 26, 2008



The Food Channel Trendwire
June 18, 2008 • Volume 22, Number 12 •

Prank Marketing Increasing in Popularity

Can a prank sell a product? Apparently it can, assuming that the target of the ruse is pleased with the product. Two nationwide chains are working to get their products noticed in a new way. Hardees/Carl’s Jr. and Pizza Hut recently tricked consumers into eating their foods in an unlikely venue, a high-end sit-down restaurant. (We covered this story briefly on our website at

In the case of Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr., it built an actual, albeit fake, gourmet burger-only restaurant called Grade A Restaurant (complete with its own website, strictly for the purpose of testing the company’s theory that its burgers are just as good as something you’d get in a high-end restaurant. The advertising agency decked out the “restaurant” complete with fake reviews, awards, a chef bio, and on and on. The company hired improvisational actors to act as wait staff, kitchen staff (including Chef Thomas), and other customers, and took it an extra step by hiring a food inspector and even a restaurant critic to interject some drama into the situation. In each TV spot a single accomplice brings the target into the restaurant. Everyone else in the joint is in on the prank. A maitre d’ sets the scene, chatting up the guests as he seats them, then a waiter takes it the next step by explaining the burger-only concept and daily special. Hidden microphones and cameras capture the dinner conversation and the before/after reaction to the burger. Visit to see the Hardee’s take on the ruse, including the short TV spots, director’s cut extended versions, and testimonials from five separate customers. The Hardee’s ad started running last month, and the Carl’s Jr. spots begin on June 22, in their respective markets.

In the Pizza Hut ( version of the prank, 50 New Yorkers come to a pasta tasting at Tuscani restaurant. In the middle of the scheduled pasta tasting, the chef announces he didn’t cook. Another MC of some sort declares that “Pizza Hut delivered the pasta!” Quick cutaways to the diners seem to indicate they are pleasantly surprised at the news. But Pizza Hut didn’t take the same steps (such as giving lots of details of the setup, behind the scenes information, and postprank interviews) that Hardee’s did. In fact, it’s tough to find any info at all about the commercials themselves, even on the Pizza Hut website. So the commercial lacks much of the authenticity that the Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr.’s spots have. In fact, the blogosphere is full of critics who say the pasta couldn’t actually fool true foodies. As one blogger put it:

The people in the commercial weren’t disappointed, though. Here’s why (this is all speculation, but I’m right):

  • They were eating for free.
  • They were eating at a restaurant that had no reputation.
  • They were not people who are used to eating at really nice restaurants on a regular basis.
  • They were selected for their high spirits and ability to be easily delighted.
  • In other words, the whole experience was a treat for those people. They had not bought into anything except to sit there and see what happened next.
  • Excerpted from


It’s interesting to note, though, that Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr. has not experienced the same backlash. We had to taste them for ourselves. Check out our review at our website (

In some sort of prank within a prank, Pizza Hut was so enthusiastic about the product, it announced it now serves “Pasta so good, we changed our name” to Pasta Hut, as evidenced in its commercial (, and by its almost-complete rebranding of the exterior of its Dallas headquarters. It was, in fact, an April Fool’s joke. Check out its announcement (

Burger King played its own prank last year with its Whopper Freakout ( campaign. The company told its customers in one restaurant that the company had taken the Whopper off the menu permanently. After several minutes of reactions ranging from disbelief to intense anger, with sentimental rants extolling the virtues of the Whopper and demands to the see the manager, the actors ultimately admit the whole situation was a prank. In some cases, they leave it for the King (yes the Burger King) to silently present a real Whopper to the sad, sad customer, smoothing the whole thing over.

In a world where TiVo and online programming threaten the once ubiquitous 30-second TV commercial, advertisers and agencies are necessarily becoming more creative in capturing the attention of potential customers. Prank marketing is settling in, in the food world, so definitely watch for this trend to continue.


Click here for more editions of TrendWire.


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