Crossing New Roads to a Reconnect a Brand Audience

When you become a professional chef at 40 years old and franchise your first restaurant at 62 (in 1952), you’ve set the tone for a company that won’t stand still and won’t give up. That’s what Col. Harlan Sanders did with Kentucky Fried Chicken, now KFC.

But even after achieving global success, businesses can’t rest. Brand audiences change. Where people get information, what they buy and where they buy have changed dramatically in the last two decades. It’s up to brands to move with them. Unfortunately, KFC had fallen behind.

Scratching Through the Recession

Like many fast food restaurants, the recession in 2008 hit KFC hard. Hundreds of stores were closed and industry rankings dropped. In addition, the company had drifted away from the brand’s core values. Making real changes to get back to those roots can be hard, but that’s exactly what KFC is doing. Kevin Hochman, KFC Brand President and Chief Concept Officer, told QSR Magazine, “When Kentucky Fried Chicken was at its best and growing the fastest, the colonel and his values were at the center of everything we did. Those values are critical to what makes Kentucky Fried Chicken so great.”

The Original Recipe Gets a Marketing Makeover

“We have to meet the customer where they are. They want to be entertained or they want something that’s going to get their attention, because if you don’t get their attention, it doesn’t matter what you’re saying,” says Hochman. The company has taken that idea to heart and won’t be ignored. Here’s a sampling of recent creative.

They’ve brought back the original Col. Sanders with technology.

They’ve added a posse of imposter Cols., including Norm Macdonald, Rob Lowe, and others.

They’ve sent a chicken sandwich into outer space. (Yes, that’s Rob Lowe.)

They created a robotic Col. Sanders to take your order.

They wrote a romance novel (available on Amazon) for Mother’s Day.

They even made a Little Movie About a Big Chicken.

Buckets of Success

Where previous KFC ads were vapid, the new communications are getting attention and driving results. QSR Magazine reports that over the last two fiscal years sales have grown, ending a nearly decade-long slide and that same-store sales have increased for 11 consecutive quarters. That’s a great start. Based on the most recent push in marketing, it doesn’t appear that it will let up anytime soon. It’s proof that even the most storied brands can lose their way, but by leveraging their biggest advantage—their legacy—in new ways they can fight their way back into the game.


For more insights and trends related to a brand audience, check out these posts.

Rediscovered Brand Audiences


For insight into how brands can nurture renewed brand growth, download our ebook, Five Gates of Branding:

Download Ebook