- Sister brands Carl's Jr. and Hardee's are partnering with Adult Swim to offer meals themed around Cartoon Network's late-night programming block, according to a press release.
- The tie-up, arriving as Adult Swim celebrates 20 years on air this month, promotes the launch of a line of hot honey chicken sandwiches. Combo orders placed through Nov. 7 will come with Adult Swim cups and exclusive figurines inspired by six fan-favorite series, including "Robot Chicken," "Metalocalypse" and "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." National TV spots for the combo meals will debut next week, per Ad Age.
- Carl's Jr. and Hardee's are also hosting three Friday Happy-thons showcasing legacy programming on Adult Swim in certain markets on Oct. 8, Oct. 15 and Oct. 22. With the campaign, the fast food chains are leaning into consumer nostalgia as a differentiator amid a fiercely competitive market for chicken sandwiches.
Carl's Jr. and Hardee's are targeting the niche comedy crowd by partnering with Adult Swim, the popular adult-oriented programming block made famous — and, in some cases, infamous — for its absurdist, low-budget animated shows. Though the announcement doesn't mention that the Cartoon Network brand is celebrating its 20th anniversary, the CKE-owned chains are clearly angling to latch onto the groundswell of viewer nostalgia.
Almost all of the series featured in the promotion are legacy titles that ended their runs years ago, including "Metalocalypse," "Sealab 2021" and "Space Ghost Coast to Coast." Offering consumers the chance to secure limited-run memorabilia could help Carl's Jr. and Hardee's tap into an enduring fondness for these properties and characters like Meatwad, a sentient meatball from "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" who remains a fan favorite.
Those tactics are also meant to draw interest to the addition of three new hot honey chicken sandwiches to Carl's Jr. and Hardee's menus: the Hot Honey Hand-Breaded Chicken Sandwich, Hot Honey Hand-Breaded Chicken Biscuit and Hot Honey Hand-Breaded Chicken and Waffle Sandwich. The sister restaurants earlier this year introduced a hand-breaded chicken lineup as the chicken sandwich category continues to gain steam. The so-called chicken sandwich wars, which have dominated fast food marketing and become more prominent as people seek comfort food during the pandemic, contributed to poultry shortages earlier this year.
Other fast food marketers have tried to capture Adult Swim's cult appeal to reach jaded, ad-averse groups like millennials and Gen Z. Wendy's has a long-running collaboration with the odd-couple cartoon show "Rick and Morty," which has in many ways become the modern banner of Adult Swim. An effort this summer included pop-up diner installations named after Morty and special beverage blends available through Coca-Cola Freestyle machines.
Carl's Jr. and Hardee's latest campaign could also be read as a riff on McDonald's kid-focused Happy Meals that come with a toy tied to more age-appropriate intellectual properties. McDonald's this week announced plans to make its Happy Meals more sustainable by 2025, including by focusing on recycled materials and drastically reducing the use of plastic.