We’ll always have Paris.

By that, I mean we’ll always have Paris Hilton as the first example of CKE Restaurants’ nearly decade-long campaign of selling burgers to their “young, hungry guys” demographic via TV commercials starring hot celebrities. Since Hilton’s racy spot in 2005, in which she ate a Thickburger while covered in suds and straddling a Bentley she allegedly was washing, the parent company to Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s has repeated the boobs-and-burgers trick with Heidi Klum, Kim Kardashian and other well-known women.

I had not thought about Paris Hilton in years — honest! — until she showed up in CKE’s latest ad for the Texas BBQ Thickburger, which more prominently features Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Hannah Ferguson.

Watch the commercial below:

Perhaps in homage to Hilton’s iconic first performance for CKE, the latest commercial shows Ferguson in a black-leather bikini washing a pickup truck and taking a break to take a sultry bite out of the sandwich. Hilton shows up at the end, wearing the same black bikini and driving the same black Bently from her 2005 ad, to inform Ferguson she missed a spot.

For viewers, however, the spot is hard to miss. CKE’s commercials remain effective not just because of their sex appeal, but also for their longevity.

Its Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains have deviated from the formula plenty over the past few years, usually to great effect like its tie-in this past May with the movie “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” But I imagine CKE returns to Hilton and other spokeswomen because the tactic works with their target demographic.

In restaurant marketing, familiar promotions and pitchmen seem to produce a nice cumulative branding effect that, quite often, seems to coincide with healthy sales growth and a lot of brand momentum.

Take Wendy’s, for instance. Its spokeswoman, Red, not only is the star of what company officials repeatedly describe as Wendy’s most successful ad campaign since Dave Thomas passed away, she also has several fan websites and Facebook pages dedicated to her. In the more than two years since she first appeared in a Wendy’s ad, Red has become a recognizable advertising character on par with Flo, the pitchwoman from Progressive Insurance.

Now try to picture the last time you saw an ad for Papa John’s Pizza without John Schnatter. Or one during football season that didn’t involve Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos quarterback who also is a Papa John’s franchisee. While Schnatter did not draw a direct correlation to his pizza chain’s partnership with Manning and the brand’s growth, he did note in a conference call earlier this year that Papa John’s market capitalization has more than doubled since the start of Manning’s endorsement deal three years ago.

But familiarity in offerings, not just faces, also remains important to restaurants. Red Lobster won’t jettison Lobsterfest or Crabfest, even as it will look to position itself as more upscale following its completed sale to Golden Gate Capital.

But perhaps one reason why continuity in restaurant advertising can be hard to achieve or maintain is because brands review their agency relationships just as often, if not more frequently, as they change their creative.

Late last week, White Castle announced an agency review, and its agency of record since 2009, Zimmerman Advertising, will participate and defend the account. Interestingly, Zimmerman was the same agency behind Papa John’s work starring Schnatter and Manning for years, but nonetheless the pizza chain moved to a bigger agency, Grey, earlier this year.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN