Monday, August 25, 2003

no more cheap burgers

So on my still-not-blogged-about family trip this weekend, we ended up stopping at a gas station somewhere in northern Missouri and deciding to have lunch. My sister Peg wanted to go to Hardee's because apparently they have been running a marketing campaign advertising new thick Black Angus hamburgers (not watching TV shelters keeps me ignorant of such commercial blitzes). Anyway, given that I wasn't particularly hungry anyway and that the other option on this particular corner was McDonald's, I went along.

Hardee's appears to be trying some analogue of the a trick play a football team tries when they are down three touchdowns and can't otherwise move the football forward. Hardee's is betting everything on the Black Angus flea-flicker play. The placemat had this spiel about how instead of trying to offer many different things they have decided to focus on doing burgers well. So the only non BA "entree" on their menu is a chicken sandwich. No fish sandwich, no salads.* So, instead of diversification in terms of different kinds of food you can get, they have diversified in terms of the size and bun of the BA burger you can get: for sizes, 1/3 pound, 1/2 pound, and 2/3 pound.** That's right, without going to the kid's menu, the old large-sized hamburger--the quarter-pounder--is no longer large enough for the least ravenous Hardee's customer.

The most interesting part of all of this was that they had these big slogans on their placemat and on the windows basically apologizing for the Old Hardee's. One that I scribbled down was "THICKBURGERS. It's how the last place you'd ever go for a burger will become the first." Another window had "NO MORE CHEAP BURGERS" in large letters and explained that their burgers henceforth were necessarily more expensive since they were no longer using "lower quality meat."

One, this all conjured up an image of Hardee's executives getting the living bejeezus scared out of them by some marketing survey results that would lead to this kind of change. Two, I wonder how this campaign makes people who had been longtime regular customers of Hardee's feel. They are basically saying that the place that they had been regularly patronizing was actually the last place that any discerning person would have wanted to go for a burger, and that all the while they had been stuffing themselves with drastically suboptimal meat. Three, do ad campaigns along the lines of "We both know that we used to suck, but now we've changed!" really work? Even my own family, whose rush to Hardee's apparently places us at the forefront of fast-food forgiveness, concluded that they didn't really think there was much difference between the Hardee's Black Angus burger and other fast-food burgers except for the size of the patty (which didn't surprise me, given that it's not obvious to me how the color of a cow would affect the quality of its meat).

* Since I don't meat beyond seafood, the only thing on the menu for me was desserts, drinks, and fries. I dithered between a cinnamon roll and curly fries, made plain to my mom I was not going to ingest both as a meal, and then went with the fries.

** The soda sizes were also massive, with the small seeming to be about 20 ounces, the medium about 30 ounces, and the large was the size of a small pail. It would be an interesting epidemiological study to look at towns whose only fast-food restaurant was a Hardee's and see if there was an increase in teenage morbid obesity rates as a result of the new reforms of Hardee's.

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