KFC's quirky Colonel Sanders effort will build brand affinity

The revamped colonel campaign is grabbing consumer attention and generating brand buzz.

KFC updated its Colonel Sanders icon on Monday with comedian Norm Macdonald – shortly after introducing actor Darrell Hammond to play the role – and while the switch seems random, its irreverence helps build a fun connection with consumers.

Over the last five days, the new colonel commercial garnered 2.7 million views on YouTube and more than 1.8 million on Facebook. The Facebook post was also shared more than 3,600 times and earned more than 8,400 likes since Monday. And since the new colonel launch, KFC has seen a 1,289% increase in digital engagement, according to ListenFirst Media.

The fried chicken company’s flippant personality didn’t come out of nowhere. The brand has been integrating its silly side into social content since bringing the colonel back in May. Its Facebook posts from the beginning of the year have shifted from being mostly product shots to posts showing the colonel as a unicorn or the Statue of Liberty.

American freedom tastes like the freedom to enjoy my 10 piece meal with a free half gallon of Dole® Classic Lemonade anytime! #4thofJuly

Posted by KFC on Friday, July 3, 2015

There was less buzz on Twitter. The first post about the change, which stated "The REAL Colonel Sanders is back, again, but for real this time," received just 500 favorites and 220 retweets since the beginning of the week.

Aside from buzz on social, which also directed fans to KFC’s statement on therealcolonel.press website, the effort achieved tremendous pickup among traditional media as well, such as CNN, People, Entertainment Weekly, CBS, Fox, and The Huffington Post.

Not all coverage was positive, but it seems KFC expected that, especially after one in five people who saw the Hammond ad in May said they hated it. But if a brand is going to post cheeky content, it has to be ready for backlash, and KFC has done a great job embracing criticism from fans and media.

Greg Creed, CEO of the chicken chain’s parent company Yum Brands, said in May he was "quite happy that 20% hate it, because now they at least have an opinion," at the Sanford C. Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference in New York.

"They’re actually talking about KFC, and you can market to love and hate; you cannot market to indifference," he added at the time.

Also, KFC may be modeling its marcomms strategy after some other companies that have successfully incorporated quirkiness into their brand personalities, such as Old Spice.

Earlier this month, Old Spice brought back the popular Isaiah Mustafa actor from its witty 2010 The Man Your Man Could Smell Like campaign. The new marketing push includes Mustafa and former NFL player Terry Crews, and in the last two weeks, the "And so it begins" spot has already received nearly 6 million views on YouTube.

The Procter & Gamble brand’s The Man Your Man Could Smell Like campaign contributed to a 107% increase in Old Spice Body Wash sales in the month of July 2010, according to Nielsen. It also won a Cannes Film Grand Prix in 2010 and boosted the brand’s Twitter presence by 2,700% to more than 83,000 followers. P&G launched the Old Spice Twitter handle just seven months before the campaign kicked off.

By not taking itself too seriously, the colonel campaign will help the chain go up against rivals such as Chick-fil-A, which recently introduced fans to its cow icons and  launched a digital newsroom.

In the second half of 2014, some media outlets reported the new campaign is a way for KFC to pump up declining sales numbers, but in Q1 and Q2 this year the brand saw year-on-year revenue increases of 8% and 6% respectively. Yum Brands also opened 122 new international KFC locations in 39 countries in the second quarter of this year, according to its latest earnings report.

While KFC is always looking to sell more drumsticks, the Norm Macdonald colonel will enhance brand affinity among consumers, and that’s nothing to scoff at because initial interest can turn into loyal fandom – and extra sales - in the future.

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