KFC is the world’s second-largest restaurant chain as measured by sales. A subsidiary of Yum! Brands, by year’s end 2017 there were 21,487 KFC restaurants worldwide serving more than 12 million customers each day in more than 115 countries and territories.
The Louisville-KY-based brand popularized chicken in the fast food industry and diversified the market, challenging the dominance of the hamburger and creating the iconic figure that has persisted in pop culture history, and in the brand’s advertising. The brand’s Original Recipe fried chicken is still made with the same secret blend of 11 herbs and spices that Colonel Harland Sanders perfected more than a half century ago when he founded the brand in 1952.
As the fast-food retailer continues its growth, China has surpassed the US as its biggest market, with more than 5,600 locations. In 2017, the company generated almost $5 billion in China and is the largest fast food chain in the country.
Facial recognition ordering kiosks were opened in one of KFC’s smart restaurants in Beijing where computer vision systems look at age, gender and facial expressions to make an educated guess about a customer’s appetite. For regular customers, the kiosk remembers your previous order.
Improving the KFC experience, and in honor of World Mindfulness Day, the fast food retailer released a bespoke “pink noise” collection called KFChill. The program is a sample of sounds from the KFC kitchen and includes bacon sizzling in a pan, simmering gravy and the brand’s original recipe hitting the fryer, “all of which are digitally mastered at a consistent frequency for a truly soothing effect,” notes PSFK. The program “caters to the evergreen consumer interest in wellness and relaxation.”
Testing the edges of promotion, KFC has gone retail with KFC-branded merchandise such as the chicken wing box that doubled as a drone—sold as a promotion in India. Customers in Canada, meanwhile. were offered the “Bitcoin Bucket” of 10 tenders, waffle fries, a side, gravy and two dips, which could only be purchased via Bitcoin for a value at the time of $20 Canadian.
Seizing the growing market of meat-replacement producers and consumers, KFC is developing a vegetarian version of its fried chicken made from plants, and has pledged to reduce the calories per serving of its foods by 20% by 2025.
Nimble in the use of social, back in February, KFC ran out of chicken due to a systemic delivery failure—but took advantage of the moment on social media and received accolades.
Admitting that being a chicken restaurant without chicken is “not ideal”—a tongue-in-cheek ad shows an empty bargain bucket, which has the letters KFC replaced by “FCK”.
— James Herring (@itsjamesherring) February 23, 2018
The company’s is active in social media and marketing events including testing voice-activated technology, social media and QR codes to improve training and the work environment.
KFC increasingly employs tech-savvy younger people. “It’s becoming table stakes as you’re dealing with millennials,” said Ryan Ostrom, KFC’s chief digital officer. “We want to make every day easy and rewarding for team members,” as it “creates more consistent products for our customers.”
New tech trials include an Amazon Echo Show for training employees in Australia, and they can ask questions and watch videos while they’re performing tasks.
Following a long line of comedians and actors portraying a modern-day Colonel Sanders, Jason Alexander is latest star to step into the role.
But the year began with Country music legend Reba McEntire as the first female to play KFC’s Colonel Sanders.
She headed a campaign for the launch of KFC’s latest permanent menu item: Smoky Mountain BBQ Chicken, crispy fried chicken based on recipes from Memphis and the Carolinas. Other performers playing the Colonel have included Billy Zane, Darrell Hammond, Norm Macdonald and George Hamilton.
Nothing to see here except a legendary chicken salesman and my new Smoky Mountain BBQ. pic.twitter.com/ey3hcsbw0b
— KFC (@kfc) February 2, 2018
Perhaps the pinnacle of whimsical advertising, KFC created this cat-climber ad with an effigy of Colonel Sanders, that was streamed on Facebook Live for four hours. About 700,000 people tuned in to view the cats, which were all available for adoption.