Saying "no thanks" to a second helping of a controversial television commercial, disgruntled cafeteria workers pressured Roy Rogers to withdraw an advertising campaign that plays to students' dislike for school lunches.
Yesterday, the owners of the 350-store fast food chain said they would pull the ad -- dubbed "Lunch Ladies" -- off the air Friday to avoid offending fellow food service industry members and school cafeteria workers.
The ad, which was canned abruptly two years ago and revived again last week, features actresses dressed as matronly school cafeteria workers serving up steamy plates of such unappetizing fare as "tuna tetrazzini surprise." While the 1966 pop hit "See You in September" plays in the background, an announcer reminds students that little time remains to enjoy Roy Rogers hamburgers and fried chicken before going back to school.
In 1988, Roy Rogers, then owned by Marriott Corp., pulled the same commercial off the air after groups representing food service workers protested that the spot was demeaning to them.
The commercial was resurrected by Roy Rogers's new owners, North Carolina-based Hardee's Food Service Inc., which figured using an old campaign was cheaper than producing a new one while it converts Roy Rogers to its own name.
The original campaign fueled a "double-digit" rise in weekly sales for Roy Rogers, a response that Hardee's found hard to overlook. But yesterday, William Prather, Hardee's president and chief executive officer, ordered the commercial pulled after considering the impact on relations with companies in the food business.
"We are in a very delicate industry as far as image is concerned," said Hardee's spokesman John Merritt.
"It's a very effective ad and it's really driving sales for us, but in the interest of industry harmony we decided to pull it."
According to Merritt and Earle Palmer Brown, the Bethesda-based advertising agency that produced the spot, Roy Rogers personnel in Maryland decided independently to re-run the ad. They reasoned that Hardee's, unlike Marriott, is not in the cafeteria sector of the food industry and consequently didn't have to worry about what that industry thought of the campaign.
Was there a hidden motive that such a revival would generate free publicity?
"The marketing folks there in Rockville basically made their decision and I don't believe that that was in their thoughts," said Merritt.
Connie Whittington, spokeswoman for Earle Palmer, said the spot originally cost $150,000 to produce. Hardee's spent $500,000 to $1 million for prime time and late evening network space through Sept. 2, Merritt said. That space will be filled with substitute commercials.