How Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s are jumping on the branded sneaker trend

how carls jr and hardees are jumping on the branded sneaker trend

Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s are dropping two pairs of athletic shoes this month that are so exclusive, even the sneaker-wearing VP of marketing for the restaurant chains isn’t getting a pair.

The specialty kicks are a way for the chains to express their own version of attainable luxury and “crave culture,” says Patty Trevino, senior VP of marketing at CKE Restaurants, which runs both chains.

Each pair of athletic-inspired sneakers was crafted by Dominic Ciambrone, aka “The Shoe Surgeon,” and cost thousands of dollars. The Carl’s Jr. pair is a colorful callback to the burger chain’s California roots, while the Hardee’s pair features a darker camo look in a nod to hunters and others in the Midwest and South that dine at the fast-food chain.

While Ciambrone often gets calls from brands to do customized shoes based on existing styles, particularly Air Jordan 1s, these were created from scratch. “We were able to do something completely unique and original,” says Ciambrone.

 Trevino says she sees the shoes as a way to participate in a cultural moment. Sneaker culture was already hot, and that has only gotten hotter as  people get casual during COVID-19. Trevino herself admits she’s abandoned high heels for multiple pairs of tennis shoes during the coronavirus pandemic, yet still looks for pairs that have some style.

“Sneakers are definitely a portal into storytelling,” says Nick DePaula, who covers the footwear industry for ESPN. But limited branded launches are just that: limited. Such shoes attract social media attention, then “it just kind of goes into the abyss of the internet from there,” says DePaula.

Still, creating unique shoes can help brands stand out with people who are into fashion and sneaker culture. They are often the younger consumers coveted by brands. CKE’s footwear includes chunky soles shipped from Italy, which were then hand colored. Both pairs have the chains’ Happy Star logo. There’s even a pocket in the tongue tag perfect for ketchup packets.

“I think the hope is that fans of one half of the collaboration will discover the other half of the collaboration,” Matt Powell, senior industry advisor of sports at NPD Group, says of the broader trend of food-related footwear. “It really is not intended to drive volume, it’s really about getting PR.”

CKE’s Trevino sees more of an appetite for such items.

“It’s really how you bring it to life that’s unique to your brand,” she says.

The shoes are available by purchasing $10 raffle tickets. Proceeds will be donated to Stars for Heroes, a fundraising campaign to benefit military-focused organizations. The shoes promote the Steakhouse Angus Thickburger, which is returning to Carl’s Jr. and debuting at Hardee’s. It’s a more premium play, again tying into that idea of attainable luxury. 

“There’s a need for new ways of marketing, new ways to get things out there,” says Ciambrone.

This is his first burger collaboration, and it’s one with a bit of a personal connection, as Ciambrone says he grew up going to Carl’s Jr., and that his dad went to the chain’s first stand.

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