(USA TODAY) -- Paris Hilton has been recruited, back in a bikini, to fight the burger wars.
Roughly nine years after a commercial featuring a bikini-clad Hilton washing her Bentley while eating a Hardee's/Carl's Jr. burger went wild on the Internet, she's back at it again. But this time, she's in a cameo role in an ad also featuring a bikini-wearing, up-and-coming Sports Illustrated model, washing a muddy truck while munching a burger.
For the Carl's Jr. and Hardee's brands, it's much more than promoting the new Texas BBQ Thickburger, made with brisket, Black Angus beef and spicy barbecue sauce, which rolls out nationally this weekend for $4.39. It's about trying to stay relevant and attract the eyeballs of hungry young guys in an era when going viral is much more competitive and tricky than it was nine years ago, when the original "I Love Paris" commercial made its debut.
Executives are betting that Hilton still carries enough cachet to attract Millennials and steer folks away from more conventional fast-food chains such as McDonald's or Burger King.
Hilton was out of the country on Thursday and unavailable for comment. But one marketing consultant says the concept won't fly. "It seems to me they're reaching back into their goody bag to see what they can do to revive the brand," says Allison Cohen, president of ad consultancy PeopleTalk. "They're rebuilding from the past because they don't have a fresh idea."
Not so, says Andy Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns both the Carl's Jr. and Hardee's chains. "It's a new take for a new generation. We're not just reaching back, we're pulling ahead."
The ad by the agency 72andSunny, filmed last month in Ventura, Calif., is an elbow-in-the-ribs homage to the original spot that Hilton filmed, also promoting a spicy new burger. At the end of the old spot, she utters, "That's hot."
The ad was hot, too. So hot, Puzder says that consumer response to it crashed the servers shortly after it was posted on the company's website. Back then, it attracted an astronomical 350 million media impressions — mostly from people watching it over and over online, says Puzder. "It was one of the iconic ads of the decade."
Beyond that, it sold burgers. In the spring of 2005, when it first began to air, sales were generally slowing at Carl's and Hardee's and throughout the industry as gas prices were spiking. Once the commercial began to air, however, sales at Carl's and Hardee's "went from negative to positive," says Puzder.
The new spot also features Texas native Hannah Ferguson, a Sports Illustrated model who was a "Rookie of the Year" finalist in its recent swimsuit issue.
But even with a cameo role, Hilton puts Ferguson in her place. The ad ends with Hilton surprising the freshman model by showing up at the car wash shoot; looking down at the car in scorn, she says, "You missed a spot."