• A Carl's Jr. campaign starring swimsuit model Nina Agdal (Carl's Jr.)
Controversial US burger chain Carl’s Jr. opens its first store in Australia today – how will the Aussie market react?
Genevieve Dwyer

2 Feb 2016 - 11:19 AM  UPDATED 2 Feb 2016 - 2:34 PM

Burger chain Carls’s Jr. opens its doors on New South Wales’s Central Coast today, making the Bateau Bay store their first foray into the Australian fast food market.

The chain is known for its artery-clogging offerings including its signature “Thickburger,” which consists of a hot dog and potato chips in addition to a ½ lb meat patty and contains more fat (88grams) than is recommended for an adult’s daily consumption by the Dietitians Association of Australia.

It’s not just their menu that’s controversial though – it’s the burger chain’s overtly sexual ad campaigns that have made them particularly notorious and even led to a boycott in the States against the chain.

One such ad was their 2012 offering for the highly sought-after Superbowl ad slot, featuring Swimsuit model Kate Upton which was deemed too raunchy for the air, but found new viral life on Youtube.

Raising the ire of feminist groups in the States for objectifying women, the ads led to a viral #CuttheCarls Twitter campaign and a dedicated Facebook page calling on consumers to take their dollars elsewhere to restaurants that treat women as #morethanmeat. 

In September last year, the chain was accused of racism in addition to sexism for their Tex Mex commercial featuring bikini-clad models playing beach Volleyball over the US-Mexican border in an apparent nod to US presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall to keep out immigrants.  

The company denied that the commercial was a comment on US immigration policies, telling the New York Daily News in a statement at the time, "If a connection was made between the ad and politics — it was certainly not our intent”.

Complaints against the chain’s young-male-targeted advertisements have been making headlines for over a decade, since 2005 when the Parents Television Council told CNN that one ad starring Paris Hilton, was “basically soft-core porn.” 

Of course, offending audiences is all part of their marketing tactic.

"If you don't complain, I go to the head of marketing and say, 'What's wrong with our ads?'" Carl's Jr. CEO Andrew Puzder told Entrepreneur last year.  

"I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it's very American," he said. "I used to hear, brands take on the personality of the CEO. And I rarely thought that was true, but I think this one, in this case, it kind of did take on my personality."

It’s a tactic that the company will rely on as they attempt to grow their market share in Australia too having already signed on local bikini model Gemie Howe for their Australian campaign as their plan potentially extends to 300 restaurants. 

With one franchise planned for Brisbane airport, and another for Hobart airport, later this year, franchise applications are open to capital cities around the country too.

So how will Australian audiences take their bold campaigns? The overt sexualisation is a technique they’re already familiar with from previous local campaigns – and they didn’t go down too well.

The 2014 ‘Meatwave‘ campaign by Australian burger chain Grill’d depicted bikini-clad women sunbaking between slices of cheese and lettuce. 

Unsurprisingly, this led many to accuse the chain of treating women as pieces of meat.

That same year, the Australian Advertising Standards Board banned a print advertisement for Bondi-based burger restaurant ‘Goodtime Burgers’ after being inundated with complaints that the ad was offensive to women.

Portraying a burger filling sandwiched between a woman’s buttocks, the ad led one complainant to write that “the woman’s body and private parts are objectified as something for people (probably men) to consume.”

The concluded in its findings that the ad: “likened the woman to a piece of meat or object for consumption and objectified women. The Board also considered that this depiction of a woman as a burger is exploitative of women and degrading.”

As to how the burger chain will fare in Australia? The Board told Mashable Australia today that their local ad, starring Howe, has already received 20 complaints. 

Will that deter anyone though? Given the six hour queues in 40 degree heat this month when fellow US cult burger chain In-N-Out held a one-day pop-up in Sydney, it seems that unlikely that Australia’s hungry burger market will be put off.