The Colonel and his Little Red Book
Within 20 years time Kentucky Fried Chicken will become the first nationally recognized Chinese food chain.
Maybe you’ve noticed that KFC has resurrected their once ubiquitous mascot, the Colonel, from a 21 year, chicken-induced coma to once again take the reins of their ailing organization and remind Americans everywhere that food is best enjoyed from a bucket.
Does he sound weird to you? Look weird? And for that matter, does he sound/look kind of familiar?
Well, he should because he’s being played by Saturday Night Live’s longest serving cast member and world’s greatest Bill Clinton impersonator Darrel Hammond.
Which poses the question: Why?
Why get somebody like Hammond to play the Colonel? They could have taken any out of work actor, slathered on the creepy face mask/makeup, threw on that antebellum suit and saved themselves a few thousand dollars.
And the way things are going KFC needs to save every penny they can.
Turns out, Millennials don’t like eating at KFC. At all.
Millennials, commonly defined as people born between 1981 and 1997 (first round Millennial! Woooo … ?) have the unique position of growing up during the escalating heights of the Information Age, quickly adapt to new technologies and new methods of communication, and simply refuse to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken.
According to Greg Creed, the CEO of KFC’s parent corporation Yum! Brands (their exclamation point, not mine) says that 60 percent of Millennials have not eaten KFC.
And that’s coming from the CEO, you know the real numbers are even worse.
So how bad is it for the beleaguered Colonel? Do you know what this great country’s number one fried chicken chain was, in terms of sales?
Yeah, those guys.
Chick-fil-A took fried chicken sandwiches, not even actual fried chicken – just sandwiches, and somehow turned them into a public relations hurricane that culminated in them suffering a nation-wide protest and an unequivocal endorsement by Mike Huckabee.
They own roughly 1900 stores in the United States and in 2014 they did about $6 billion in sales.
Compare that to the austere Colonel. KFC has about 4800 stores in the US and in 2014 they did about $4.2 billion in sales.
How bad is KFC doing that they are getting beat by a sandwich store with a gibberish name that isn’t even open on Sundays?
Yum! Brands has decided that the first step in getting the younger generation to eat KFC is to get them to hate the Colonel.
In an interview with Food Business News (THE source for news regarding the business of food) CEO Creed said, while discussing KFC’s new ad campaign, that “So far the response has been about 80% positive, 20% hate it, … So I’m very excited that this work is really distinctive and disruptive. And I am actually quite happy that 20% hate it, because now they at least have an opinion. They’re actually talking about KFC, and you can market to love and hate; you cannot market to indifference.”
So Creed has decided to employ the business world equivalent of “negging,” which is a term used by sad single men to describe elucidating negative aspects about a woman in an attempt to get her to go out with you.
I never said it made any sense, I just said that’s what the term means.
Guess what? That doesn’t work. Best case scenario is you get a bunch of Millennials ironically eating some KFC once, then never again.
Creed’s other attempts to salvage the flagging brand include creating new packaging, uniforms, updating the dining areas and offering delivery.
Delivery KFC? Finally, a gastronomic act more shameful than eating an ortolan!
I think Creed was on to something with the intentionally unnerving Colonel Sanders mascot (creepy mascots worked for Burger King) but he’s simply not going far enough.
Remember Chick-fil-A? Do you know what the end result of that national boycott was? Their sales increased and their brand awareness shot through the roof. During that PR nightmare they actually made more money, proving their really is no such thing as bad PR.
So, if KFC wants to leverage their superior locations and knock Chick-fil-A out of the top spot then they need to turn the neg up to 11 and go after the one customer base that has buoyed their coffers in the last few years: Communist China.
It’s time for KFC to become The People’s Chicken.
KFC is the largest fast food chain in all of China, and that’s including Chinese fast food chains as well. The next most popular American fast food chain in China is the always international McDonalds, who had 1964 stores in 2013. KFC had 5854 stores in China as of 2013.
The Chinese market is the only reason KFC is still around; at some point soon we’re just going to keep KFC stores open in the US like museums with people slowly milling past wax reproductions of buckets of chicken and “honey sauce,” whatever that may be.
Personally I believe KFC makes a good fit culturally in China; Colonel Sanders is basically an American General Tso. Both have fake military titles, both make chicken; there is no need to explain why a clown is selling you a hamburger.
And what do those coveted Millennials love more than ironic reappropriation of a forgotten culture? Why do you think they all wear turn of the century mustaches and filter their digital pictures to look old? The Millennials would love the chance to eat at a Communist themed restaurant.
As for the menu all they need to do is throw on some egg rolls and dumplings, keep everything else the way it is (everybody loves mashed potatoes), then just stick a bunch of pictures of Mao on the menu. Boom. Done.
Within 20 years, as Chick-fil-A makes even more money and people finally start eating at Popeye’s because it’s just better than the other two (it might be TOO good), Yum! Brands will realize the counterintuitive truth of the 21st century: If you want to make the big profit, you’re going to need to go Red.
Copy Editor Wes Burns is a Sunday columnist. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. Contact Wes Burns at 641-753-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.