Why KFC decided to get into the dating game

The inside story on the brand's dating simulator.

Company: KFC
Campaign: I Love You, Colonel Sanders
Agency partners: Wieden+Kennedy (creative), Edelman (PR), Psyop (game developer) 
Duration: September 24

KFC launched a full-length dating simulator game on Steam, challenging players to form a romantic connection with Colonel Sanders while taking classes at a prestigious culinary school. 

Strategy
KFC tasked all of its agencies with the same creative brief: "Bring us opportunities that aren’t mainstream yet," said Steve Kelly, the brand’s director of media and digital.

The dating simulator concept originated from KFC’s creative agency, Wieden+Kennedy.

"They have big anime fans in that department, and they brought forward an idea to translate the Colonel’s passion for fried chicken into a dating simulator," Kelly said. "We are always looking for unexpected ways for people to interact with the Colonel." 

The goal of the campaign was to "make KFC famous," Kelly said. It’s an overarching marketing strategy at the company. While KFC does traditional marketing, it has heavily invested in turning the Colonel into a personality who infiltrates a variety of cultural niches, particularly those in which the company can connect with a new audience. 

The dating simulator concept was shown to KFC in March and officially green-lit in June. From there, KFC worked with game developer Psyop to create an interactive game, which launched on September 24. The mission was always to create an engaging product, not a flimsy parody of the dating simulator genre, Kelly said. 

Tactics
The game’s rollout hit a hurdle when its impending release was scooped roughly two weeks out. Steam requires developers to launch a "coming soon" page before the launch of a game, and KFC’s caught the attention of Polygon reporter Nicole Carpenter. KFC, which hadn’t reached out to media yet, switched into overdrive, pitching outlets "a little earlier than expected," said Kelly. 

Once the game, titled "I Love You, Colonel Sanders! A Finger Lickin’ Good Dating Simulator," was live, KFC partnered with gaming influencers including GameGrumps, The Anime Man, Funhaus, LetsPlay and WWE's Xavier Woods to create play through videos that the company posted on its YouTube channel and distributed on other social platforms. 

Results
More than 3.3 million people have visited the store page, and more than 268,000 people have played the game, with an average playtime of 1 hour and 48 minutes. On Steam, 94% of player reviews for the game are positive. 

The campaign generated 390 media placements through online, print and broadcast channels, including articles in The Verge, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, Vox and Eater. 

The campaign resulted in 79,048 unique social media posts, including 749 individual Instagram posts with the hashtag #iloveyoucolonelsanders. 

Following the campaign, KFC partnered with YouGov, a market research company, to measure consumer sentiment. The survey, which was conducted shortly after the game’s release, found that KFC’s brand index was up 20% among overall customers and 25% among gamers.

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