KFC SEEKS TO LICENSE ITS NEWLY ANIMATED COLONEL: AD CHARACTER FOLLOWS IN SISTER CHIHUAHUA'S PAWPRINTS

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He may not be the next Chihuahua, but KFC Corp. is hoping its animated Col. Sanders character can have a life beyond TV commercials.

The nation's largest chicken chain plans to license its revamped colonel for clothing and merchandise in a bid to grab a slice of the $110 billion licensing industry.

KFC has engaged the shop that handles the licensing of sister company Taco Bell's hugely popular Chihuahua mascot, Hakan & Associates, Overland Park, Kan.

KFC and Taco Bell are divisions of PepsiCo spinoff Tricon Global Restaurants.

Hakan executives met last week with longtime KFC agency Y&R Advertising, New York, for initial talks about the colonel's potential beyond ads, drink cups and chicken containers.

The animated colonel made his debut last fall in a new ad campaign that Tricon credits with helping boost sales 4% for each quarter since it was launched. The animated figure, with the voice of actor Randy Quaid, transformed the chain's late mustachioed founder, Col. Harland Sanders, into a peppy, somewhat irreverent, cartoon-character chicken expert.

He will be the centerpiece of a major TV campaign breaking in September to back the national rollout of KFC's new line of chicken sandwiches (AA, Feb. 22).

The campaign, now in development, will likely feature the colonel taking a jab at hamburger chains as KFC positions itself as the chicken expert.

Burger chains have had great success selling chicken sandwiches. KFC, the expert at selling fried chicken, has been working for several years to find the right recipe for a sandwich line that would attract more lunch customers without sacrificing sales at the lucrative dinner hour.

A TERRIFIC BRAND EXTENSION

Michael Tierney, VP-public affairs for KFC, who is heading the licensing effort, called it a "terrific brand extension exercise."

He said consumers have given the new colonel high grades.

"We're going into it as a result of consumer interest and reactions when we go out in our logo wear. Inevitably somebody will stop us and ask where we got it," he said.

Mr. Tierney said it's too early to say whether Col. Sanders will crop up as a plush toy, an antenna ball or the centerpiece of a clothing line. He made his debut as a licensed property last week at the annual convention of the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association in New York.

There are no projections as to how the colonel might add to the 5,100-unit chain's bottom line, Mr. Tierney said. At Taco Bell, talking Chihuahua plush toys that sold for $2.99 last December helped boost fourth-quarter 1998 sales by an impressive 9%.

Kevin Keller, a marketing professor at Dartmouth College's Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, said the trick with the colonel will be to ensure he's likable and contemporary.

"His heritage is an asset," he said. "The trick is how do you make him both classic and contemporary."

Mr. Keller noted that the character at first glance doesn't have the lovability of a Pillsbury Doughboy.

"You don't want to poke the colonel in the stomach," he said.

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