KFC FAST FOOD PRETENDS IT ISN'T

Ad Campaign Leaves the Fingers a Bit Greasy

By Published on .

Advertiser: KFC Chicken
Agency: BBDO Worldwide, New York
Production Co.: Backyard Productions, Chicago
Title: Softball
Rating: 1.5 stars

Original recipe Kentucky Fried Chicken, it turns out, isn't fast food. It's slow-cooked. It's golden. It's dining.

"There's fast food," the new campaign reveals, "and there's KFC."

Excellent strategy from the new agency, BBDO Worldwide, New York, to set KFC apart from the burger competition. Ah, the Power of Advertising, to delicately assemble the facts and portray the product -- literally -- in the most flattering, golden light. And no doubt, prompted by this delicious imagery and the critical category-differentiation insight, many consumers will rush to the nearest KFC, where they will quickly discover that:

They are in a fast-food joint -- a quintessential queue 'n' wolf -- where the entree is basically a chicken-flavored doughnut.

Batter-dipped credulity
Slow-cooked? Deep-frying is slow cooking like rape is seduction. The stuff is tasty, all right, but to suggest that it is somehow morally superior to other fast-food fare more than strains credulity. It batter-dips credulity and immerses it in hot oil. Let's get real here: The paper napkins after a KFC meal look like the gauze dressings at a liposuction.

So, if the object is to get lapsed bucketeers back into the fold, why gloss over the very greasy thing that probably drove them away to begin with? Why even bother pursuing an advertising strategy that will be instantly impeached by the consumer experience? There hasn't been a more disingenuous re-staging since the New Nixon.

The three spots feature actor Jason Alexander, playing essentially the same pompous buffoon he played in Seinfeld, only not hilariously funny this time. This time, not any kind of funny.

"I am on a mission from the Colonel!" he begins in the first ad, introducing his role as poultry evangelist. "Friends, put down your burgers. They are a formed and processed slap in your face, a gray and tasteless travesty. They're beneath you. This is the recipe that will save America! KFC Original Recipe chicken."

Voice-over: "Hand-prepared with those 11 secret herbs and spices, slow-cooked to lock in all that juicy flavor."

Alexander (grandiloquent): "Share the bounty of my bucket!"

Voice-over: "Rediscover KFC Original Recipe chicken. Get two pieces, two sides and a biscuit for only $2.99."

Alexander: "Grab a drumstick! We can change the world!"

Grab a drumstick, and stick it down his throat!

Absurd proposition
The exaggerated self-importance is supposed to be arch and funny. But it doesn't work that way. If it does anything, it undercuts the seriousness of the underlying proposition. Of course, it's impossible to undergird the underlying proposition, because the underlying proposition is absurd.

Fast-food burgers may be crap, but they aren't the gray sludge patties these ads accuse them of being. And KFC may be "juicy" -- in approximately the way Mazola is juicy -- but the "hand-prepared" bit is ridiculous. Meals on the Donner Pass were hand-prepared, too, but that didn't make them cuisine. And saying fast-food chicken isn't fast food doesn't make it true.

That explains the archness, we suppose. It's as if the agency knows its claim is spurious and is trying to camouflage the obvious by winking at the audience. Sort of "We don't have a plump, golden leg to stand on, but watch us pullet!"

That bird don't fly
But that bird don't fly. Furthermore, any way you look at this, Alexander is an obnoxious spokesman, and the fact that he's being obnoxious on purpose does not redeem him, either. There isn't a lot of room in advertising for antiheroes. There especially isn't a lot of room in food advertising for pudgy antiheroes who seem to be making fun of the entire selling premise.

We loved watching the George Costanza character because he was so deliciously vile. Inherent in that relationship, however, was the certain understanding that whatever he was for, we're against.

That dynamic does not an endorser make.

On the other hand, to the degree that this is perceived as George Constanza pitching KFC, as opposed to Jason Alexander, there is still a way to turn this exercise in falsity into truth:

"Deliciously vile" is, after all, exactly what KFC is about.

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