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Carl’s Jr. Ads Back in Action as Rodman Returns to Game

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dennis Rodman, the NBA star who is returning to action after being benched for kicking a court-side cameraman, is also going back into the game for Carl’s Jr., the Anaheim-based burger chain.

CKE Restaurants Inc., the parent company of Carl’s Jr., hopes to have television commercials featuring Rodman back on the air in time for Sunday’s NBA All-Star game in Cleveland. The ads were pulled after NBA officials suspended Rodman for 11 games and the company was deluged with calls from irate television viewers who felt it was wrong for the suspended player to be pitching burgers.

At the time, the company said it had made no decision on whether the suspension from television would be permanent but would pull the ads until the Bulls star came to terms with NBA officials. Now that Rodman has won approval to return to action, the company sees no reason not to use the commercials, said Tom Thompson, president and chief operating officer of CKE Restaurants.

Advertising industry executives said it is risky for companies to rely upon celebrities who end up making news that overshadows their professional accomplishments. Rodman, for example, no longer is associated with Nike, which reportedly decided that he had crossed a thin line separating celebrity from notoriety.

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“Carl’s Jr. obviously studied the pros and cons and decided there’s still some mileage left in this guy,” said Michael A. Kamins, a USC marketing professor who studies celebrity advertising issues. “But if [Rodman] does something else, it’s a no-brainer, especially if the NBA bans him.”

In another sign of his continuing popularity, Rodman has lent his image to dolls that a Los Angeles-based toy company is selling for $14.99 through retailers like FAO Schwarz and Target. The dolls, made by Street Players Holding Corp., include a miniature basketball and two outfits--a basketball uniform and a silver metallic vest with matching boots and denim shorts.

Target spokeswoman Lisa Woodward described sales of the dolls as steady and said the company expects to sell its allotment of 10,000.

Rodman’s role as burger pitchman has generated plenty of free publicity for the once-staid company that is named after founder and Chairman Emeritus Carl N. Karcher.

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Just days before Rodman’s initial Carl’s Jr. ad ran in early 1996, the Chicago Bulls forward was suspended for head-butting an NBA referee. At the time, Carl’s Jr. spokeswoman Suzi Brown said Rodman was a “free spirit . . . we knew what we were getting when we signed him.”

The advertisements are part of a larger campaign aimed at 18-to-35-year-old males who eat most of the nation’s fast food. And many advertising industry executives suspect that younger males might very well be applauding Rodman’s ability to irritate authority figures.

The chain’s “in your face” campaign includes several other commercials that appeal largely to younger males. Some of the ads show men ogling a beautiful woman while she eats a big, messy burger. Another advertisement spoofed Alfred Hitchcock by using a catsup-laden knife, but it was yanked after viewers complained that the spot was unnecessarily graphic.

CKE on Thursday credited its year-old advertising campaign for sparking solid gains during 1996. Same-store sales, a key indicator, rose by 10.5% during the fourth quarter and 10.7% during the year. In contrast, Irvine-based Taco Bell’s same-store sales declined by 2% during 1996.


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