WTH is Going On with KFC?

WTH is Going On with KFC?

Justin Peters, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is as average as fast-food restaurants come in terms of the food itself. Besides some really good mac-n-cheese, KFC’s food isn’t the first or even second choice for me when it comes to fast-food chicken, with Popeyes and Chick-fil-A being the golden gods of the quick-chicken empire. But, there’s something really special about KFC, and it isn’t their mashed potatoes; it’s their bizarre marketing.

When it comes to fast food marketing nowadays, all it takes is some over-the-top close-ups of the food to show how delicious it is (and to hide how disgusting it actually is) and a peppy voiceover to coarse you into filling your gut with whatever food your eyes and stomach agree with. But not KFC. Sure, they have their fair share of standard ads of families gathering around buckets of chicken and biscuits while Colonel Sanders tells you how finger-lickin’ good the chicken is. But those ads are merely a ruse for the normies and boomers. KFC will not let you forget about all of the weird stuff they’ve done to promote their chicken.

Let’s start with the Colonel himself. In 2015, KFC brought the Colonel out of retirement to star in brand new ads. However, they didn’t just cast some random actor to play him. They brought in real, well-known celebrities to star in the ads, celebrities like Rob Lowe, Billy Zane, Ray Liotta, and even Reba McEntire. While celebrity appearances in fast food aren’t exactly a new idea, you’re not gonna see them dress up like the company mascot. But playing dress-up isn’t the only bizarre Colonel appearance. In 2011, a man dressed as the Colonel scaled-down Chicago’s River Bend building to deliver food to the window cleaners. And in 2006 (doesn’t that feel like ages ago), to promote the new logo, KFC decided to make its marketing as visible as possible, with a logo so big that it could be seen from outer space. Believe me, this is just the frosting on the cake.

KFC has even tapped their toes into literature more than once. In 2017, KFC partnered with DC Comics, home of superhero legends like Batman and Superman, to create a new line of KFC comics that featured the Colonel fighting side-by-side with the Justice League to protect the universe and defend the name of everyone’s favorite fried chicken expert. In the same year, ahead of Mother’s Day, they released “Tender Wings of Desire,” an 83-page romance novella about the budding relationship between Colonel Sanders and a young, rebellious woman named Madeline Parker. The book has four out of five stars on Amazon, and some fans of the book have called it “deliciously crisp writing” with “free-range love.” Yes, I’m serious. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but speaking of KFC and romance…

Last December, KFC partnered with the Lifetime Network to produce the abomination known as A Recipe For Seduction, a very real short film about a young heiress who struggles to choose between a wealthy suitor chosen by her mother, and the new house chef Harland Sanders, played by Mario Lopez. I’m not even joking. The short film has all of the classic Lifetime stereotypes, the controlling mother, the wealthy and jealous fiancé, the gay, Black best friend, the works. It’s very bad, but I think that was the point.

Lastly, I want to talk about the one thing that KFC’s marketing team seems really stringent on continuing: their video game library. Once again, I am not joking. KFC has released a slew of video games, including a dating sim called “I Love You, Colonel Sanders! A Finger-Lickin’ Good Dating Sim,” a virtual-reality escape room called “The Hard Way,” and many more. However, they haven’t just dipped their toes into software. In June of 2020, KFC and PC company Cooler Master announced the KFConsole, a very real gaming console that boasts various features, including ray tracing, up to 4K resolution, and 240Hz output. More importantly, it includes a mini-oven to keep your chicken warm. It’s real, however, a release date has not been announced.

While these marketing strategies are bold and weird, it’s always self-deprecating, entertaining, and never strays into self-serving. At Cannes Lions in 2018, KFC U.S’s Director Of Brand Communications George Felix and their agency ECD Jason Bagley (of Wieden Kennedy) told of their strategy for “branded everything,” which resulted in a mind-blowing 1,850 pieces of content in the past 12 months. 

From TV spots to Twitter content, everything’s crafted to drive coverage and conversation. “You have to take a lot of swings,” Jason Bagley told the Cannes audience. “There isn’t a way to guarantee that you’re going to always have a hit. But you have to think about what is going to bring value and entertain and surprise the consumer.” And while I may not like their food, I have to give credit where credit is due; KFC might just have the best marketing out of all the fast-food chains. But, that doesn’t mean it still isn’t finger-lickin’ weird.