Branding is a new science and art. Most brands we recognize, laud and admire were birthed in the last few decades. That is certainly true of fast food. We can all name McDonalds, Burger King, A&W, Dairy Queen, Popeye’s, Wendy’s, and Taco Bell.
Those food spots still exist but there are exponentially more that are defunct like Burger
Chef (as featured in Mad Men), Burger Queen (yes, this existed), D’Lites, G.D. Ritzy’s, Mighty Casey’s, Red Barn, Shrimp Boats, and Wimpy Grills.
My all-time favourite of those around or gone is Kentucky Fried Chicken. Not KFC. That rebranded acronym stab at political correctness or food-righteousness does not resonate with me or represent how I truly feel. When I choose to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken it is because the chicken is deliciously DEEP-FRIED! Get your kale salads elsewhere!
My affinity is not only because of the food. I have an amazing amount of nostalgia for The Colonel’s restaurant chain. This comes in three parts. This first originates from my father bringing a bucket home to satisfy a family of six. The bucket was iconic before anyone used the word “iconic” when talking about a brand. The bucket’s very appearance made me smile. The expectation of the chicken, fries, gravy, cole sale, and Grecian rolls was fantastic. We would indulge and gorge. A shared and devoured bucket was a family victory.
The second chunk of nostalgia comes from the kitschiness of the brand. Harland Sanders was a steam engine stoker, insurance salesman and filling station operator prior to focusing on chicken. Even then it took about 60 years for him to find real success. Along the way he cultivated this Southern gent personae and came to call himself The Colonel after receiving the state of Kentucky’s highest honour. A Kentucky Colonel is a person who achieved “noteworthy accomplishments” and delivered “outstanding services.” Muhammed Ali, Stephen Fry, Elvis Presley, and Donald Trump are also Kentucky Colonels.
The third bit of nostalgia comes from my twelve year old golf tournament. The Swystonian Golf Classic kicks off with an evening of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Feeding 24 guys takes a lot of chicken. We still ask for buckets even though larger orders come in large flat boxes. We like wearing them as helmets.
Kentucky Fried Chicken and The Colonel loved promotion, self-promotion and promotional items. In fact, the lines were blurred across all three. I own 12 plastic Colonel piggy banks and a framed portrait of the man. From my childhood I remember the silly music albums, flimsy paper hats, cheap plastic hand puppets, and other tacky stuff the chain pumped out.
Current management and its ad agencies have elected to employ satire and self-deprecation to help sell chicken. Most recently they have used semi-famous actors to portray The Colonel in television ads. This is a caricature of a caricature that Harland himself would have enjoyed. Yet, it is not all fun and games. KFC has discovered that nearly 60% of Millennials have never eaten at the chain.
That is a scary statistic. It means that the chain’s loyalists are aging and even dying off. To help turn this around the company has once again turned to promo items and leveraged its retro past. They have opened KFC Ltd. An on-line store selling limited-edition products in five categories: accessories, apparel, home goods, chicken lovers and colonel crazy. Current highlights include vintage apparel, finger lickin’ good jewelry and a $20,000, 400-year-old meteorite in the shape of a Zinger sandwich. If the latter sells that will create a PR treasure trove.
Our favourite item is The Dream Colonel Pillowcase at just $14. We are surprised it doesn’t come smelling of 11 herbs and spices like the famous chicken recipe (find that recipe here).
There are more than a few compelling Kentucky Fried Chicken shirts…
This line created by the agency Wieden + Kennedy will change with some frequency. The game plan is to sell fresh creations that create buzz that, in turn, moves many more buckets of chicken to a younger audience. In the meantime get your chicken-patterned $8 socks, $12 classic black string tie, and $18 assorted enamel pins. A nice touch on this fast food e-commerce site is the shopping cart is in the shape of that iconic bucket. Speaking of which I kindly suggest that one of the next items be a bucket hat.