KFC Hopes Humor Will Draw Younger Patrons

Comedy Central Shorts Help Hawk New Toasted Wraps

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Although a number of stand-up comedians have worked Kentucky Fried Chicken into their sets, the fast-feeder has now worked out a way to pay for the privilege.

KFC devoted a solid chunk of its broadcast and online advertising budget to Comedy Central this spring and summer to back the launch of its toasted snack wrap, making a concerted attempt to reconnect with the young fry.

Watch it burn
Part of the push involved a series of interstitials during the show "Friday Night Stand-Up." The resulting series, called "Will It Toast?" parodies Blendtec's humorous branded web series "Will It Blend?" in which the company's goggled and lab-coated CEO, Tom Dickson, shoves everything from running shoes to iPhones into the company's commercial-grade blenders. "Will It Toast?" is instead set in a kitchen with a plethora of, well, toasters.

KFC wanted to show that its wraps are toasted, unlike the more established version at McDonald's.

In "Will It Toast?" the teary host toasts mementos from an ex-wife, including love letters, photos and a toaster given as a wedding present. The items are shoved into an enormous toaster oven as an announcer says, "It's not done until it's toasted." The content, which ran May through July, was edited by Lee Gurevich of The Pound, a post-production house in New York specializing in advertising and network branding. Clients include Animal Planet, Comedy Central, USA Network and Sci Fi Network.

Dexter Morris, a writer-producer and on-air creative at Comedy Central, said the network promises marketers anywhere between five and 11 minutes of play in a 30-minute show. Mr. Morris said Comedy Central works with between 50 and 60 marketers each year, but the amount marketers are willing to spend on branded content has dwindled recently.

Luring younger customers
KFC Chief Marketing Officer James O'Reilly said the toasted wrap represented a big opportunity to go after Gen Y and Millennials. He added that KFC was spending more dollars online to introduce this one product than it had spent online in all of 2007. (Overall, ad spending was up 8% to 120 million in first five months of 2008, compared to the same period in 2007, according to TNS Media Intelligence.)

Outreach to young people is critical for the staid brand. KFC and its pressure-cooked chicken holds particular appeal to boomers, many of whom are now being forced to cut back on fat and sodium. Unlike other fast-food chains, young consumers are relatively small portion of KFC's overall pie, but an essential area for growth.

KFC had also rolled out a youth-targeted campaign, from DraftFCB, Chicago. At the time, Mr. O'Reilly touted the ongoing cast of characters as younger and hipper. "We're definitely contemporizing this brand," he said. Earlier this year, KFC also added toasted-wrap games to its website, and began selling what it describes as "vintage" T-shirts.

While youth-targeted efforts haven't done much to increase awareness with 18- to 34-year-olds, the brand's "positive buzz" increased in May and June, to about 26% from 19% in April, according to BrandIndex, which conducts surveys of more than 1,000 brands daily.

Ted Marzilli, senior VP-brand group at YouGov Polimetrix, said these scores indicate that KFC can generate excitement about its brand, and may want to "consider broadening its advertising and marketing campaigns to reach U.S. consumers in this age group."

KFC's digital media manager, Deva Bronson, said that KFC developed an entire digital plan, "executed" at ComedyCentral.com, including sponsorship of the channel's Indecision 2008 website.

Target for ridicule
The branded-content portion of the Comedy Central buy was particularly bold for KFC, given the shots some comics have taken at its fare. Comedian Patton Oswalt, for instance, famously flayed the fried-chicken bowls with mashed potatoes, corn, cheese and gravy as a "failure pile in a sadness bowl."

"The KFC toasted wrap, which launched in March, had a competitive differentiation of being toasted," said Melanie Dyer, KFC's national media manager. "The target for the product matched perfectly with Comedy Central's viewing audience. The creation of a vignette in Comedy's unique brand voice around 'Toasted' subject matter increased awareness and retention for this main selling point."

The interstitials will have a high bar for success. Blendtec's videos, first posted in late 2006, have garnered between 50 million and 100 million views, including YouTube, various blogs and the company's own site, WillItBlend.com, said Jeff Robe, the company's marketing director.

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