By Barry Janoff
May 19, 2015: Col. Harland David Sanders of Kentucky Fired Chicken fame has been out of the Madison Avenue spotlight for about two decades, but returns as the center of a new multi-platform campaign from the fast-feeder in which actor Darrell Hammond takes on the persona of the man who founded the company as it celebrates its 75th anniversary.
The effort is all-encompassing for KFC, including new store formats, expanded menus, new packaging, a rebooted Web site and a dedicated interactive destination sharing the past, present and future of Col. Sanders.
Sanders himself appeared in marketing for many years. After his death in 1980 from leukemia, actors and animated figures filled the role. According to the brand, the character of Col. Sanders has not been used in marketing for about 20 years, although his face remains at the core of the brand's imagery.
The marketing effort is anchored buy three TV spots now breaking online but hitting TV on Memorial Day, along with Internet, social media and in-store. Lead agency is Wieden + Kennedy, Portland.
KFC draws on its history of sports to get its message out as we see Hammond as Sanders talking to and handing KFC chicken pieces to drivers stuck in traffic, groundskeepers in a baseball stadium and a lifeguard at a neighborhood pool.
The campaign comes as KFC is experiencing a degree of success. A division of Louisville-based YUM! Brands, which also owns Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, KFC Division system first quarter sales "increased 8%, driven by 2% unit growth and 5% same-store sales growth" over 2014, according to financial figures released last month by YUM!. In addition, operating margin increased 1.8 percentage points to 26.3% and operating profit increased 11%.
In its category, however, KFC, with some $4.3 billion in sales, ranks second to Chic-fil-A. which had more than $5 billion in sales, according to QSR Magazine. Popeyes Louisiana Chicken is third at $2.1 billion.
YUM! had numerous ties to sports. In 2014, YUM! signed a five-year deal that begins next year and runs through 2020 extending its role that began in 2006 as presenting sponsor of the Kentucky Derby.
The KFC YUM! Center is a 22,000 seat arena home to University of Louisville men's and women's basketball teams and has hosted and will host among other events, NCAA March Madness tournament games and exhibition games for the NBA and WNBA.
In North America, KFC has been aligned with NFL Network, Nascar (including a deal this year with driver David Ragan) and currently has a deal with MLB's Toronto Blue Jays. International alliances include rugby and cricket.
In 2002, Barry Bonds appeared in a KFC commercial along with actor Jason Alexander.
"Colonel Harland Sanders' iconic legacy and world-famous Original Recipe chicken are what set Kentucky Fried Chicken apart from the rest," Kevin Hochman, CMO for KFC US, said in a statement. "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."
In "The State Of Kentucky Fried Chicken Address," Hammond as Sanders is explaining his return to marketing.
"I've been gone for awhile and boy how have things changed," he says. "You have your International Space Station, double-sided tape, cargo pants. But what you don't always have is my Kentucky Fried Chicken. Well, I'm here to change that. I'm here to make sure that my KFC is as tasty and delicious as it ever was." (See the full spot here.)
"Bucket In My Hand" sees Sanders reviving the earliest days of KFC when he would personally go to restaurants to share his recipe and finished product, here bringing his chicken right to the public. (See the full spot here.)
"America's Favorite Music" finds Sanders reminiscing about the joys of life that never fade, such as KFC chicken and music played by the Colonel Harland Sanders Mandolin Band. (See the full spot here.)
Hammond is most closely associated with his tenure on Saturday Night Live from 1995-2009 and then as the show's announcer beginning in 2014.
According to the actor/comic, "In my line of work I've been able to do impressions of a lot of interesting people. But Colonel Sanders? He was a really fascinating guy. His lifelong entrepreneurial spirit and integrity are two things that drew me to him. He never gave up."
Hammond said it was an honor to bring to life such an iconic figure as Sanders but that it didn't hurt that "KFC is paying me in chicken — which, at the time, sounded like a good idea because I was very hungry that day."
"We want to remind today's hardworking folks that his passion, dedication and famous secret blend of 11 herbs and spices are alive and well across our 4,300 restaurants in the U.S.," said KFC's Hochman. "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."
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