CLOSE-UP: Live Issue/KFC - KFC seeks a modern identity beyond the animated Colonel. KFC is retaking control of its advertising to improve sales, Jeremy White writes

Back in 1998, in the US, Young & Rubicam rolled out its latest

weapon in converting hamburger addicts to Colonel Sanders' special blend

of 11 secret herbs and spices. For KFC, the answer to the pulling-power

of Ronald McDonald appeared to be an animated Colonel.



Ogilvy & Mather has been handling the UK account since 1996 and although

it officially didn't have to, it has essentially spent the past four

years repurposing the US creative for the UK. This sort of activity does

not fill any creative department with pride and finally, after a

concerted effort by KFC UK and O&M, the agency and client have managed

to drop the dancing Colonel.



The new ads scripted in the UK, are live action, humourous, polished and

come complete with a voiceover from Samuel L Jackson - there's an effort

to make KFC cool going on.



The radical change of dropping the Colonel from KFC advertising seems

drastic, but the reasons were simple: he wasn't cutting the mustard.



"There was a feeling that it had lived its life and that it wasn't

getting the cut-through that they were hoping for," Nigel Roberts, the

creative director at O&M, says.



"A lot of the activity was about new products and the feeling was that

the Colonel was dominating things," he continues. In other words, people

saw the jigging Colonel prancing about and mentally switched off.



"It wasn't doing a great deal for the brand," he concedes.



But Roberts is quick to point out that the Sanders trademark isn't

dead.



"The Colonel is still in existence, it's the trademark, but the creative

was there to be improved upon," he says.



So is KFC's market share, which is the driving force behind the latest

marketing push.



McDonald's has a 26 per cent share of the British fast-food market and

KFC has 5.6 per cent, according to the market researcher Taylor Nelson

Sofres.



Over the next four years KFC wants to grow from 560 to 800 outlets in

the UK. To do this it will need to compete with the plethora of fried

chicken brands that are now established, such as Nando's. Plus,

McDonald's has been encroaching on its territory by offering chicken

products. Hamburgers make up just 48 per cent of McDonald's sales -

chicken and fish account for the rest.



And the KFC feeling has been growing that the Colonel was doing nothing

to make up this lost ground.



"We knew it wasn't enjoyable enough," Claire Harrison-Church, the UK

marketing director for KFC, says. "We wanted the new ads to be fun and

work on people's craving for the products."



Hence the new strapline: "Give in to the chicken."



"I thought twice about the move (away from the Colonel) but my instinct

was that as a consumer I didn't have a strong affiliation to the

animated Colonel. I knew how important it was to deliver more impactful

advertising," she says.



So far, so logical. But the problem with dealing with an international

fast-food chain's marketing is that no one person makes the

decision.



Not only did the new direction have to be sanctioned by the US - this

not being a problem as it had dropped the animated Colonel a year ago -

and not only did it have to be backed by KFC UK, which it duly was, but

O&M also had to sell the idea to those who hold the purse strings - the

franchisees.



"A large proportion of stores in the UK are run by franchisees," Roberts

explains. "Any change or continuation in activity has to have their

approval. So we had to have several presentations to a committee of 20

or so representatives. They have a say."



Ben Moore, the board account director on Burger King at Lowe, has had to

deal with franchisees for some time.



"It is complex. Any advertising development by a committee is riddled

with potential pitfalls. They will come to meetings with lots of

different views about advertising. Tensions can get high at times,"

Moore says.



As it's their money on the line, they also have the power of veto and

can stop agencies in their tracks if they don't like what they hear.



"But unless the final ad is extraordinarily off-brief, then it would be

very unlikely that they would stop it," Moore adds.



Was there resistance from the KFC franchisees?



"I'd be lying if I said there wasn't," Roberts admits. "We had to

convince them that it was the right thing to do. It went into research

and did so well that the franchisees questioned whether it was all above

board or not. Committees do tend to complicate things - getting 20

people to agree on something is difficult."



Roberts says the secret to selling a new campaign in such circumstances

is good planning.



"Planning tends to be the most impartial element of the agency process.

It has the charts and science to back up the creative," he says.



"The new work has a much greater modernity and accessibility and the

media will have to amplify and enhance this," Rhona Tridgell, the

managing partner of KFC's media agency, Zenith, says. "We are going to

be trying to use media to get KFC more in tune with contemporary

culture."



An example of this is KFC's sponsorship of SM:TV. "Innovation will

hopefully be a big part of the plan," Tridgell adds.



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