Our cultural connection to Colonel Sanders seems to have been lost in the deep-fryer of time.Colonel Harland Sanders, the goateed founder of KFC known for his white suits, string ties and “finger-lickin’ good” punch line, would have turned 120 years old today.
But young adults don’t know him from beans. More than six in 10 Americans ages 18 to 25 — the chain’s key demographic — couldn’t identify him in the KFC logo, according to a survey last week by the chain.
Worse, five in 10 believe he’s a made-up icon and three in 10 haven’t a clue who he was.
That’s why KFC is taking action. Today, the world’s largest chicken chain, with 15,000 outlets in 109 countries, unleashes an online PR blitz aimed at bringing the Facebook generation eye-to-eye with the venerable colonel.
“As time has gone by, the younger generation didn’t get to see and experience him like other generations did” in ads and personal appearances, says spokeswoman Laurie Schalow. “We plan to celebrate the fact that our founder was a real person.”
KFC will be using its Facebook presence, Twitter, MySpace, the KFC website and other digital outreach to introduce them to Sanders and prod them to create and upload a piece of art that could become a painting to hang (temporarily) next to the famous Norman rockwell painting of Sanders at the company’s headquarters in Louisville.
The image confusion is in part KFC’s own doing.
In the past few decades, it ping-ponged back-and-forth from fried-chicken-maker to grilled chicken specialist. In the logo, it put the colonel in a red apron instead of his iconic white suit. And it turned its Kentucky Fried Chicken name into KFC.
“I wonder if most kids know what the initials KFC stand for?” poses brand guru Steven Addis. “It’s just an alphabet soup now.”
But Addis likes it that KFC essentially as the Colonel might have put it, is now “fessing up”. “It’s a desperate but smart act to re-educate a generation,” he says. “It’s a clever way to embrace the problem rather than hide from it.”
On a vaguely similar but much larger scale, Domino’s late last year tossed out its pizza formula and mocked itself in ads that conceded the old pizza tasted like cardboard. Sales zoomed.
For KFC, it’s been a rough year domestically. KFC’s same-store sales fell 7% in the U.S. in the second quarter, facing a difficult comparison with the same quarter in 2009 when a new grilled chicken product was launched.
KFC has basically stopped growing in the U.S., and almost all growth is pegged to come internationally in 2010.
Now, KFC’s trying to paint a new picture — actually asking its core consumers to paint it for them.
Through Sept. 30, artists can upload their sketches of the colonel at kfc.com/portrait.
The winning artist will receive $1,100 ($100 for each of the 11 herbs and spices used for the Colonel’s Original Recipe chicken) and get to paint a new portrait of the colonel.
One last twist: The artist will be using paint into which KFC has blended the secret 11 ingredients.