Ahead of US Memorial Weekend and a big anniversary, KFC is reclaiming its brand roots with a sepia-toned campaign that reminds Americans about founder Colonel Harland Sanders and even revives its original name, Kentucky Fried Chicken. The new ad campaign, which you can watch below, stars former Saturday Night Live star Darrell Hammond as the Colonel.
As KFC’s US chief marketing officer Kevin Hochman tells BuzzFeed, the goal is not only to celebrate its 75th anniversary of the final Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe—an anniversary it shares with McDonald’s this year—but also to reclaim the brand’s “lost decade” in America, as it’s been focused on growth overseas, including China and Africa.
It’s also been overtaken by Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A as the largest chicken chain in the U.S. by sales—hence the need to go back to its roots and reboot its brand icon, as the CMO tells BuzzFeed:
“We’ve had quite a while where we have not grown,” said Hochman. He reiterated what struggling restaurant chains often focus on when they need to get back on track: The need to remind consumers about the quality of their food, make sure the service is friendly, and differentiate the brand from competitors.
QSR magazine outlined the brand’s challenges in its preview of this brand refresh campaign:
Innovation at KFC, at least in the public consciousness, has taken something of a back seat in recent years to Yum’s two other brands, Pizza Hut and particularly Taco Bell, which has launched a breakfast menu and had hits with several menu items, such as Doritos Locos Tacos. But KFC hasn’t been sitting still, with new product introductions like boneless and bite-sized chicken, as well as the Go Cup, a container that fits in vehicle cup holders and includes a choice of chicken with potato wedges.
KFC has seen huge growth outside the U.S.—two-thirds of its locations are international, and China is its largest single market. In Japan, going to KFC is a Christmas tradition and sometimes requires making a reservation. Back at home, however, the chain has lost its crown as America’s biggest chicken chain to Chick-fil-A. In 2013, KFC did $4.3 billion in U.S. sales, while Chick-fil-A raked in around $5 billion domestically.
As KFC explains in a Southern drawl-tinged press release, it’s paying homage to the spirit of Sanders with a new look and brand voice:
Seventy-five years ago a feisty 65-year-old chicken salesman (once a farmhand, an army mule-tender, a locomotive fireman, an aspiring lawyer, an insurance salesman, an amateur obstetrician, a political candidate and a ferryboat entrepreneur, among other professions) set out to give his neighbors the best fried chicken out there. A decade later that secret recipe and his finger lickin’ good® fried chicken made Colonel Sanders one of the most recognizable men in the world. “One of things that kept me going in those days was the conviction that my Kentucky Fried Chicken was good—good for the restaurant owner and doggone good for the people who ate it.” —Colonel Sanders, 1974
“Colonel Harland Sanders’ iconic legacy and world-famous Original Recipe® chicken are what set Kentucky Fried Chicken apart from the rest. His entrepreneurial spark and unrelenting appreciation for hard work, philanthropy and showmanship (or what he called ‘a little Colonel-ing’) are exemplary of the ‘American Dream,'” stated Hochman in the press release. “We want to remind today’s hardworking folks that his passion, dedication and famous secret blend of 11 herbs & spices are alive and well across our 4,300 restaurants in the US.”
The press release continues, “In honor of this momentous anniversary, KFC is reintroducing the brand’s greatest asset—the Colonel himself—by bringing his down-home values and recipe for the world’s tastiest chicken to life via web, broadcast, social media and in-store experiences.”
“We’re rollin’ out the changes online with a new and improved KFC.com and reinvented ColonelSanders.com. The latter will feature a mighty fine look at the various stages of the Colonel’s life via the Hall of Colonels, a new interactive digital experience that tells his story from rural farmer to small-town lawyer to gun-fightin’ gas station owner to fried chicken connoisseur and philanthropist.”
The press release continues in its new brand voice:
The new KFC experience doesn’t end there, folks. Customers will taste the changes too, thanks to some new, innovative, lip-smackin’ menu items—namely, the Finger Lickin’ Good® sauce, made with Original Recipe® seasoning to complement the flavor of America’s favorite fried chicken. And don’t think they forgot the packaging! KFC meals will don newly designed buckets, bags, boxes and more, all reflecting the brand’s distinctive style. And, let’s face it, the Colonel’s style was one of a kind.
KFC restaurants are undergoing changes as well, with a fancy redesign rolling out at restaurants across the country during the next few years. And if you’ve been to the Hikes Point, Louisville, Ky. or Las Vegas, Nev. locations, then you have had a sneak peek. Hikes Pointers were the first to see the new digs, which bring to life the brand’s values while honoring the man who made it all happen: Colonel Sanders. And just like his memorable white suit and ribbon tie, KFC’s new design is iconic and distinctive, conveying originality, reputation for quality and, most importantly, showmanship.
Hochman concluded, “The Colonel has always been at the core of everything we do here at Kentucky Fried Chicken®. The 75th Anniversary is the perfect time to give him back to the people and remind everyone of what we’re all about.”
There’s no question the KFC brand needs to be updated, along with its packaging, stores, menu and branding. However, the resulting ads featuring Hammond as the rebooted Sanders, which debut on TV on May 25, put the “pain” in “campaign”—but judge for yourself.
First up, the official reintroduction with “The State of Kentucky Fried Chicken Address” commercial: “Colonel Sanders is back, America! He’s back to make sure his Kentucky Fried Chicken® is still as delicious as it ever was. And he made this commercial about it.”
Then this little ditty, “Bucket in My Hand” with the tagline, “I’m back, America! (heh heh)”
There’s also an awkward “play” recounting the “gun-fightin’ gas station owner” episode:
And an old-timey look at “America’s favorite music” with Sanders’ mandolin band:
Don’t get us wrong—we love the Colonel. Just not like this. Your thoughts?