Jack in the Box, Inc.

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Jack in the Box, Inc.

9330 Balboa Avenue
San Diego, California 92313-1516
Telephone: (858) 571-2121
Fax: (858) 571-2121
Web site: www.jackinthebox.com



In the late 1990s Jack, the clown spokesman for Jack in the Box restaurants, was at the center of a comeback for the fast-food chain. Jack in the Box had used a clown as its mascot until 1980. In that year a commercial showed the clown being blown up as a means of signifying the chain's move into fare with an adult appeal. The chain was hard hit in 1993 when an outbreak of E. coli bacteria in its Seattle restaurants led to the hospitalization of hundreds of customers and the deaths of four who had eaten tainted burgers sold by the restaurants. For the company the challenge in the mid-1990s became to rebuild its brand and win back customers.

In 1994, with a campaign orchestrated by the Venice, California, office of TBWA\Chiat\Day, Jack made his return. Thereafter, Jack in the Box advertising was built around the theme "Jack's Back." Production for the campaign was almost entirely TV-based. Spending figures were not disclosed. Most prominent among the Jack TV spots in 1998 was the award-winning "The Visit." It was a parody of the TV show Cops and showed Jack beating on a door, demanding to see a Brad Haley. Jack then confronted Haley, a smart-aleck kid who had bad-mouthed the chain's food. When Haley tried to flee, Jack chased him down and forced him to eat a burger, which Haley admitted was "tasty." "You're not just saying that because I'm kneeling on your spine?" Jack asked. The humor of the commercial was further compounded by the fact that Jack in the Box's vice president of marketing communications, one of the people most responsible for the "Jack's Back" campaign, was named Brad Haley.

The campaign's success was undeniable. The "Visit" spot won numerous awards, including a Gold Lion at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes. After Dick Sittig, creator of the Jack campaign, resigned from TBWA\Chiat\Day, Jack in the Box moved its account to Sittig's new agency, which had the unlikely name of Kowloon Wholesale Seafood Company. Sittig's agency continued to create new television spots using the "Jack's Back" theme. The ongoing campaign won a Bronze EFFIE in 2003 and a Silver EFFIE in 2005.


In 1941 Robert Peterson founded Topsy's Drive-In in San Diego, California. He later renamed it Oscar's, and by 1950, when he changed the name to Jack in the Box, the company had four restaurants. It was among the first drive-in restaurants in America, and the appeal of Jack in the Box was heightened by its mascot, a clown whose head appeared on the restaurant's distinctive logo and signage.

The company became Foodmaker, Inc., during the 1960s, but the restaurants remained under the Jack in the Box name, and by 1968, when Peterson sold Foodmaker to Ralston Purina, it had some 300 restaurants. In 1969 Jack in the Box became the nation's first fast-food restaurant to serve breakfast, and within a decade it had more than 1,000 locations around the United States. In 1979, however, it decided to scale back its operations, selling 232 facilities in the East and Midwest and focusing its business on the West Coast and in the southwestern United States.

Ownership of Foodmaker fell into the hands of management after a leveraged buyout in 1987, and the company began to franchise many of its formerly company-owned stores. Foodmaker hit on hard times in 1993, an event painfully remembered five years later by CEO Robert Nugent, then chief operating officer. "Sunday morning, January 17, 1993," he told Jennifer Waters of Restaurants & Institutions, "I got a call from our head marketing guy. He said, 'We have a problem in Seattle. It's food poisoning.'"

The cause was the E. coli bacteria, which had tainted ground beef, causing hundreds of people to be hospitalized and killing four others—including a nine-year-old boy. Nugent, the father of two daughters, remembered this as "one of the most devastating things I've ever experienced." But Foodmaker responded in an exemplary fashion. It halted all hamburger sales in its more than 1,100 U.S. restaurants and removed the meat from all its facilities. Facing huge lawsuits, company executives met regularly in prayer groups, and Foodmaker developed a food inspection program later cited by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) as a model to the industry. Foodmaker weathered the storm, including the lawsuits and huge losses, and by the late 1990s had reemerged stronger than ever.


In a bid to draw in more adults, Foodmaker in 1980 had gotten rid of its Jack logo, the trademark clown; in fact, a television spot actually showed Jack being blown up. The end of the logo was meant to symbolize a shift in direction, with a greater appeal to adults rather than children. This was accompanied by a change in the menu. By 1994, however, Foodmaker had decided it was time to bring Jack back, so in the first of a new wave of commercials, Jack announced his return—"thanks to the miracle of plastic surgery."

"If that sounds like serious business," wrote Linda Mae Carlstone of Franchise Times in February 1997, "be aware that the new Jack is seven feet tall—part clown, part man—with a giant spherical head, a permanent painted smile, and a pointed yellow hat. Let's also point out [that] he blows up the boardroom in the lead ad." Brad Haley, vice president of marketing communications for Jack in the Box, told Carlstone that "Jack was carefully planned." As Carlstone noted, "Company research showed the biggest fast-food hamburger consumer is the 18-to-34-year-old male, so the humor is targeted to this group that is," in Haley's words, "jaded about advertising in general, mistrustful, and typically [without] a character to relate to." Carlstone went on to note that "Jack is liked by older adults and kids. His likeness appears in kids' meals and toy promotions." Said Haley, "I'd like to say the broad appeal was part of our thinking, but it was a pleasant surprise."


In Nation's Restaurant News Gregg Cebrzynski described the following vignette, which might have seemed at first sight like something from a Jack in the Box TV commercial: "Jack is driving along the freeway, the top down on the car. Suddenly, thunder is heard. Lightning flashes in the sky. Jack never loses the grin on his face. He reaches next to him on the seat and grabs a Jumbo Jack sandwich. Rain starts to pour down. It's pouring so hard that Noah's Ark can be seen in the distance. But it's not raining in Jack's car. It's illuminated by its own little sunshine because Jack is having so gosh darn much fun eating a Jumbo Jack that even a storm can't darken his day."

In fact, this was not a television commercial, but a potential part of a new phenomenon called "webisodes," a term coined by Johann Liedgren of Seattle's Honkworm. The latter, along with Rocket Pictures, also of Seattle, had teamed up to produce animated commercials on the Internet, spots that would feature longer, more involved stories than would be possible on television. In the future, Cebrzynski suggested, visitors to the Jack in the Box website might be able to access such webisodes. According to Cebrzynski, Liedgren and his partner, Dan Pepper of Rocket Pictures, "have not signed up any restaurants as clients yet, but they believe Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, and McDonald's, because of their strong brand images, would be perfect candidates."

Garcia of the Los Angeles Times specifically linked the appeal of Jack to Generation X: "The secret behind Jack lies in his disarming personality," she wrote. "Gen-Xers distasteful of advertising view him as a parody of hyped celebrity pitchmen—and like him because of it." She also noted that he was "a hit with males in their late teens up to their 30s—voracious consumers of cheeseburgers, shakes, and fries."


Another powerful California-based fast-food chain, Carl's Jr., made its own appeal to the young in 1998 with what Robert Wisely, president of parent company CKE Restaurants, called "the big messy, drippy advertising campaign." Dennis Pollock of the Fresno Bee described one of the chain's most controversial spots: "The burger drips and the couple strips down inside a coin-operated laundry. In a television commercial that has brought howls of protest in the [San Fernando] Valley and elsewhere, her melting ice cream bar prompts her to disrobe while he strips down to his paper bag from Carl's Jr."

Although Jordin Mendelsohn, managing partner of the agency that created the spot, told Pollock, "I can sell a lot of hamburgers," many viewers found such advertising a turnoff. In another spot a young man "slobbers," in Pollock's words, over a double-bacon cheeseburger from Carl's Jr. before a blonde in a Porsche caused him to toss the burger on the ground and jump in with her. A voice-over announced, "If you ever find anything hotter and juicier than a Carl's Jr. Double Western, go for it." Wisely dismissed detractors as people "from the Central Valley, which seems to have more Midwestern values. The [complaint] calls have come from grandparents and mothers with young children who see it as an affront to their lifestyle."

By 1999 Carl's Jr. had acquired North Carolina—based Hardee's, which had been the nation's fourth-largest burger chain after McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's. This put the California chain into a southern market where West Coast advertising styles were not likely to be as popular; meanwhile, Foodmaker made its own push into the southeast with Jack in the Box. As for Jack, many observers saw him as one of the most effective weapons in Foodmaker's arsenal, which would give the company an edge over even McDonald's Ronald McDonald or Wendy's popular Dave Thomas. Foodmaker poked fun at one competitor's symbol in a spot where Jack appeared at the gate of a mansion and said, "Let me speak to the Colonel, founder-to-founder." The spot promoted the company's new chicken sandwich, competition for Kentucky Fried Chicken.


From the time of the 1994 reintroduction of Jack, Foodmaker worked with TBWA\Chiat\Day. In 1996, however, the new Jack's creator, Sittig, left TBWA\Chiat\Day to form his own agency in Santa Barbara. Foodmaker moved the account in March 1997 to follow Sittig, and @radicaL.media handled production for television commercials.

Television spots for Jack in the Box during 1998 were seemingly endless, and indeed the campaign consisted of perhaps two dozen different commercials. These developed the story line of Jack's existence, along with his personality as a witty, sardonic iconoclast. Central to this advertising was the idea that Jack was the true CEO of Jack in the Box, a concept he reinforced with phrases such as "Since I regained control of the company"—a reference to his return from suspended animation four years earlier.

In January 1999 Eric Celeste of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reviewed some of his favorite Jack commercials. In a spot called "Spicy Crispy Chicks," for instance, Foodmaker seemed to lampoon efforts by competitor Carl's Jr. to use sex as a means of selling hamburgers. An underling showed Jack an intended commercial showing the scantily clad "Spicy Crispy Chicks Dancers" cavorting to music. Disgusted, Jack told the lackey, "You are so fired." Thus Foodmaker managed to simultaneously use sex and make fun of the concept. Celeste described another spot, titled "Focus Group": "Jack and his corporate suits are conducting a focus group composed of meat-lovers, asking them what they think of the company's new Ultimate Cheeseburger, which contains only meat and cheese. The men complain about the use of a bun. 'Lose that bun,' says one, 'and you got somethin'.' Jack storms in and screams that their suggestion is ridiculous because 'your hands would be covered with MEAT and CHEESE!'" At the end, however, he sighed and said of the "no-bun theory," "All right, we'll look into that."

Based on the campaign's continued success, new spots were created that targeted a broader audience and featured Jack poking fun at the chain's fast-food competitors. In 2000, working with a measured-media budget of $61.6 million, Jack in the Box released television commercials that included several aimed at the Hispanic market. One Spanish-language spot featured Jack talking to a tarot-card reader at a carnival; another spot, released in time for the holidays, spoofed 1970s dating-game shows. One spot that aired in 2002 was aimed at the burger chain's competitor, the Subway sandwich chain, and its famous weight-loss spokesman Jared. The spot, titled "Jared," showed Jack walking onto a train platform to introduce the restaurant's Ultimate Cheeseburger to people. Jack approached a 20-something man named Jared and asked him where he was from. Jared, reluctant to talk to a man with a giant Ping-Pong ball for a head, responded, "The subway."

In 2003 the campaign was modified to expand its target market beyond burger-hungry 18- to 34-year-old men to include women and older adults. Described as a "brand reinvention" by the San Diego Business Journal, the effort included spots featuring Jack in situations that promoted the chain's upgraded food and the restaurants' move from fast food into the trendier "fast-casual dining" category. A spot released in 2004 and titled "No French" showed Jack being interviewed by a French newscaster, who asked why Jack was calling French fries "natural-cut fries." Jack cracked under the pressure of the newscaster's "You have a problem with the French" attitude and responded with an undiplomatic "Eh."

The introduction of Jack car-antenna attachments led to the creation of sidekicks for Jack, little Ping-Pong heads who began developing a story line of their own in some commercials. During the summer, with Congressional campaigns afoot, Jack ran a political campaign in which he demonized his opponent as "a milkshake-hating extremist." Denise Gellene of the Los Angeles Times called this spot "a sendup of political advertising" that managed, in just 30 seconds, to make fun of "every cliché of political advertising." But perhaps the biggest news of Jack's ersatz political campaign was the fact that he had a wife—a normal-looking woman, without the Ping-Pong head.


"The Visit," the spot in which Jack confronted Haley, won a Belding Award from the Advertising Club of Los Angeles in April 1998, as well as a Gold Lion at the 45th International Advertising Festival in June. In October "The Visit" won still more awards at the Excellence in Advertising for Television and Excellence in Advertising for Radio Awards. In December Gellene chose Jack's political campaign as one of her top three ads of the year.

While Jack gathered awards and kudos, his company prepared for a push into the southeastern United States. According to Louise Kramer, writing in Advertising Age in February 1999, "The move east will be backed by TV commercials from Jack in the Box agency Kowloon Wholesale Seafood Co…. They will introduce the concept to consumers, and use the same theme as the long-running campaign featuring the Jack character."

In May 1999 Warren Berger of Advertising Age celebrated Jack, along with "Got Milk" and a few others, as examples of campaigns whose impact had not faded. According to Berger, "Haley says research has shown that consumers can't wait to see what Jack's going to do next. And unlike more human founders of other burger chains, Sittig believes this character can go on indefinitely as spokesperson—because 'this is one company founder who doesn't age.'"

As the campaign's run continued, the awards also continued to pile up. In 2002 the "Jared" commercial was named one of Adweek magazine's Best Spots. The campaign earned a Bronze EFFIE Award for Sustained Success in 2003, and in 2004 Adweek again honored one of the campaign's spots, "No French," as one of the publication's Best Spots. Another EFFIE for Sustained Success, this time a Silver, was awarded in 2005.


Bell, Diane. "Jack's Wife Is Normal: No Fat Head." San Diego Union-Tribune, July 28, 1998, p. B-1.

Berger, Warren. "Jack in the Box: Explosive Staying Power." Advertising Age's Creativity, May 1, 1999, p. 30.

Carlstone, Linda Mae. "Clown Returns Home to Help Jack Up Sales." Franchise Times, February 1, 1997, p. 20.

Cebrzynski, Gregg. "Marketing & Media." Nation's Restaurant News, July 13, 1998, p. 18.

Celeste, Eric. "We Do Know (and Love) Jack: Edgy Jack in the Box Commercials Funnier than Most TV Fare." Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram, January 12, 1999, p. 1.

Garcia, Shelly Nina. "Clowning Glory: Never Mind His Looks, Icon's Personality Gives Fast-Food Chain the Last Laugh." Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1997, p. D-4.

Gellene, Denise. "Campaign Spoof Wins for Pitch with Appeal." Los Angeles Times, July 30, 1998, p. D-6.

"Jack Pez to Do Battle against Taco Bell Chihuahua: It's Dog vs. Pez in World of Fast Food." Santa Ana (CA) Orange County Register March 24, 1999.

Kramer, Louise. "Jack to Burst Out of Its West Coast Box: Fast-Food Chain Eyes 500 Sites in Southeast." Advertising Age, February 1, 1999, p. 3.

Lansner, Jonathan. "Can You Top This? In the Fast-Food War for Your Belly and Your Buck, Tackiness Is King." Santa Ana (CA) Orange County Register, July 8, 1998, p. C-1.

Lewis, Connie. "A Test in Taste: Jack in the Box Offers New Fare, but Quality May Still Be Job No. 1." San Diego Business Journal, October 13, 2003.

MacArthur, Kate. "Jack's Fighting at Fifty; Jack in the Box Struggles with Image and Rivals." Advertising Age, February 19, 2001.

Pollock, Dennis. "Sex, Burgers and Outrage: Carl's Jr.'s 'Big Messy, Drippy Advertising Campaign' Proves Profitable, but Complaints Are Piling Up." Fresno Bee, October 2, 1998, p. C-1.

Waters, Jennifer. "Back in the Black." Restaurants & Institutions, July 1, 1998.

                                                    Judson Knight

                                                     Rayna Bailey