Upon the celebration of their 75th anniversary, Kentucky Fried Chicken has made a big splash in the advertising world with the help of the Portland-based agency, Wieden + Kennedy. Following in the footsteps of countless other brands, KFC is drawing from advertising days of old in order to resonate with today’s consumers.

A few short weeks ago, the fried chicken dynasty announced that they would be bringing back the iconic Colonel Harland Sanders. Played by SNL alum and master impressionist, Darrell Hammond, the new Colonel maintains his Southern charm with an added dose of SNL parody. I appreciate this comedic reboot of the Colonel and see his revival as a great move for the brand that has begun to slip into obscurity as of late.

As the centerpiece of a significant brand overhaul, KFC has also redesigned its product packaging, website, and launched a quirky nationwide commercial campaign featuring the Colonel. This new campaign has given the Yum! Brand an opportunity to separate itself from its fast food rivals. With America’s new obsession with healthy, wholesome foods, driven by Millennials, fast food brands are scrambling for new identities. Hamburger giant, McDonalds, has expended the greatest resources in this effort but has been ultimately unsuccessful. Working with multiple agencies on multiple campaigns, McDonald’s messaging has been ultimately cluttered and confused. With a focused campaign with a down-to-earth Colonel, KFC is touching the emotional appeals of Americans. Nostalgia alone may drive the sales of the fried chicken brand closer to the new market leader, Chick-Fil-A.

Before I discuss the relevancy of this campaign in the advertising world and its practical application for your brand, I encourage you to first look at the campaign’s first national television spot.

What does this mean for your brand?

KFC is certainly not the first brand to run a campaign such as this. Over the past decade, retro-themed advertising campaigns that tap into the past have been trending. The most common brands as of late to embrace these campaigns have been beverage producers. Just last year, Miller Lite released a new throwback can as a limited-time publicity stunt tied to the release of Anchorman 2. The new can, a direct replica of the 1980’s can, led to a significant increase in sales that led Miller to make the redesign permanent. Simple brand adjustments such as this can evoke great feelings of nostalgia in consumers, reminding them of a simpler time.

Although this strategy has worked for several influential brands over the past decade, it certainly isn’t the appropriate strategy for every organization. The strategy has been utilized primarily by the food industry as many associate food quality with the past as overly processed foods are now more present that ever before. When looking at these campaigns, we see three primary guidelines for today’s brands to follow.

  • Tap into emotional appeals by telling a brand story
    The greatest way to draw consumers to your brand is through the heart. Perhaps this is achieved in the digital space through branded videos and tailored graphics or in the physical space through a kind gesture or a simple handshake. In the cases described above, nostalgia serves as just one example of the many different emotional appeals.
  • Think differently and take risks when cultivating your brand
    Through its new Colonel campaign, KFC and its ad agency are certainly taking a risk. This is what it takes to be a successful brand in today’s business climate. Brands must not be shy when it comes to advertising. Brands that take these risks often earn the most attention and therefore, the greatest success down the road. Don’t be comfortable when it comes to taking risks. It’s okay to be uncomfortable.
  • Embrace the power of brand aesthetics
    In branding, aesthetics are everything. And no, aesthetics are not restricted to just logos. A brand’s aesthetics must be consistent across platforms and must match the identity of the brand. With the packaging of all its products reflecting the brand with the Colonel’s image and the signature red stripes, you can see that KFC understands this. With powerful aesthetics, a brand is able to tell a story and remove bounds.
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