According to people familiar with the matter, both agencies presented ideas to KFC in a closed pitch.
Wieden & Kennedy declined to comment. KFC declined to comment.
That KFC would choose Wieden & Kennedy comes as little surprise, given the chain's U.S. chief marketing officer, Kevin Hochman, has worked with the agency in the past. As a longtime Procter & Gamble marketing executive on various brands including Old Spice, which Wieden & Kennedy handles, Mr. Hochman is well versed in the agency's work, having overseen creative like "The man your man could smell like."
Mr. Hochman joined KFC in January 2014, replacing Jason Marker, who was promoted to KFC's president post in the U.S.
The KFC account shift to Wieden & Kennedy is the latest in a series of major account moves for Yum Brands. Last summer, Pizza Hut moved its account to Interpublic's Deutsch from McGarryBowen without a review. Prior to that, Deutsch gradually took on lead duties for Taco Bell from FCB.
FCB has been a longtime agency for Yum Brands. It won KFC back in 2003, and for several years was also the lead agency on sibling brand Taco Bell. Although Deutsch took the lead on Taco Bell, FCB continues to handle marketing-services duties like retail for the brand out of its Southern California office.
The loss of KFC is a blow to FCB's Chicago office, but the loss is mitigated in part by the newly won Michelob Ultra Beer North America account, which will be handled out of both Chicago and Toronto.
An internal memo sent to FCB employees by Chicago President Michael Fassnacht and Chief Creative Officer Todd Tilford said, "We are fortunate that 2014 has been FCB Chicago's best year in a long time. We grew our top line by double digits, added 10 new clients to our family, attracted unbelievable talent from all over the world and had our fair share of publicity along the way." Among those wins is a Nestle health-and-wellness image effort.
Of KFC's business, the memo said: "We have done incredibly strong work for KFC over the last 10 years, especially over the last 24 months, when we worked unbelievably hard and smart on making KFC relevant for a younger generation. And we were successful. In 2014, KFC was the most social [quick-service restaurant] brand in North America, was ranked as the second most engaging QSR brand by Forbes in November 2014, and enjoyed very strong sales results over the last nine months that outshine the rest of the QSR category. We expect this trend to continue in 2015 while our new work runs nationwide."
KFC in recent years has struggled to appeal to younger consumers, generally the biggest customers of fast food. Fourth-quarter and full-year earnings for Yum won't be released until Thursday, but in the third quarter, KFC in the U.S. saw a rebound, with same-store sales increasing 2%. That followed a same-store sales decline of 2% in the second quarter and a drop of 3% in the first quarter.
KFC is Yum's second-biggest ad spender behind Taco Bell, according to Kantar Media. In 2013, the last full-year of available spending data, KFC spent close to $284 million on U.S. measured media, while Taco Bell spent $327.5 million and Pizza Hut spent $247 million.
Overseas, KFC has had problems with sales, particularly in China, with an Avian-flu scare in 2013 and a food-safety scare last summer following reports that one of KFC and MCDonald's suppliers was blending expired meat with fresh meat.