The recent series of ads for Kentucky Fried Ch...sorry, for KFC with Darrell Hammond have been somewhat controversial. At least as controversial as comic TV ads can get. There have been some people who've gotten their nose bent out of joint having an actor play the real-life, though no-longer living Col. Sanders and doing so in a fairly irreverent way.
Personally, I've sort of enjoyed the whimsical nature of the ads, holding no particular reverence for Harlan Sanders, especially given that his "Colonel" title is a honorary one that pretty much anybody in Kentucky can get. I admire the success of the business he began and so late in life, around age 65, I believe. But as for a company being irreverent about itself, great.
Well, as it turns out, for all those people who were bothered before, KFC is now ratcheting up the irreverence.
KFC is replacing Hammond with another Saturday Night Live comedian, and one who is even far more snarky -- Norm MacDonald. Yes, Norm MacDonald, who got himself fired from SNL. And the company is playing games with it all, as well, having fun with the switch and being upfront about it. That this is the "real" Col. Sanders, and that other guy was just a fake.
Here are the first three in the new series.
I'm not completely sure if this is actually a case of Darrell Hammond being "replaced," or if it was the intent all along, to play games with the Col. Sanders image. First of all, if the concept of an irreverent Colonel played by an SNL comedian wasn't working, they'd have dropped the whole idea. And if it was working, they'd have kept Hammond. Second, it seems pretty fast -- and convenient -- to swap actors and to another SNL actor. But mainly, the comments from KFC itself have supported the idea that they are having fun being irreverent, which suggests it's all part of a larger campaign. (For all we know, it'll get even more off-beat.)
For instance, in the press release announcing the change, the chief marketing officer for KFC, Kevin Hochman, says -- "Other than not quite looking like him, his voice being different, and his inability to cook the world's best chicken, we thought Norm was the perfect choice to play the Real Colonel. I think the fans will agree."
And then there's the comments from the head of the company itself,Greg Creed, CEO of Yum! Brands which is the parent company of KFC, which not only support the off-beat nature of the campaign, but were made back in May at a conference, which suggests he was happy being as goofy as possible and had absolutely no problem with Hammond, while clearly (as CEO) being well-aware where the campaign was headed.
Mainly, though, in a world where corporate heads will do anything to protect the sanctity of the brand, I love his comments that actually embrace the indignation.
"So far the response has been about 80 percent positive, 20 percent hate it," he said about the Hammond campaign, reported by Food Business News. "But you know what? That's better than 100 percent being indifferent. And that really is what's important … we had lost relevance in the U.S.—60 percent of millennials had not eaten KFC."
To which Creed then added my favorite comment, something you pretty much never hear the head of a company say: "I am actually quite happy that 20 percent 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."
All the more reason I applaud the KFC campaign.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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