Deepashree Banerjee

KFC's mascotisation of Colonel Sanders...

As QSRs struggle to differentiate basis their food alone - because food delivery apps have brought consumers in touch with unbranded outlets with similar menus - KFC invests in its branding. The campaign is centred on the mascotisation of KFC's late founder Colonel Harland David Sanders.

What comes to mind when you hear the name 'KFC'? Aside from fried chicken and a sudden craving, you'll also, most likely, recall the face of a friendly looking gent with glasses and a goatee. Although the Col. Sanders has been the mascot since... forever, the brand is once again bringing the Southern Gentleman's image back to the forefront in a big way.

KFC's mascotisation of Colonel Sanders...

Theatre actor Denzil Smith has been roped in as the iconic and beloved Colonel Sanders of KFC in India

KFC's mascotisation of Colonel Sanders...

The Colonel goes desi in this latest TVC

Decked out to resemble the good Colonel, Denzil Smith, popular Indian film and theatre actor, made an appearance at a KFC restaurant in Connaught Place, New Delhi recently where he introduced 'KFC Land' to all the patrons. He called it the land of the "tastiest chicken" and also declared July 6 to be Fried Chicken Day'.

KFC's mascotisation of Colonel Sanders...
KFC's mascotisation of Colonel Sanders...
KFC's mascotisation of Colonel Sanders...

KFC Land campaign teasers

Going forward, the brand plans to give 'KFC Land' its own set of wings to impact all aspects of the brand - from launches to the digital interface, physical stores, activations, and consumer experiences. Interestingly, seeking the Colonel's blessings is something that the US market also did not so long ago.

The aggressive competition in the category comes from every possible direction, be it standalone restaurants, cafes doubling up as food outlets, premium lounges, and concept eateries. In a scenario where vegetarianism appears to be back in vogue, the influx of global and local brands is higher than ever; surviving the battle is no mean feat given that it is fought on a multitude of levels.

A Fine lining between gimmicky and mascotising (?)

KFC's mascotisation of Colonel Sanders...

Moksh Chopra

We spoke to Moksh Chopra, director marketing, KFC India and he seems pretty aware of this phenomenon too saying, "We realised that the QSR industry was beginning to get cluttered, wherein all brands were shelling out similar communication to target essentially the same set of consumers. As a result, all brands were starting to look alike."

"Given that our food and our iconic founder are so distinctive, we wanted to extend that distinctiveness to our approach and communication as well," Chopra adds.

However, we can't help but wonder if a distinctive brand world, with the Colonel at its helm, was an obvious next step in India where the brand has been building a thriving business for about 20 years now.

KFC's mascotisation of Colonel Sanders...

This 2015 KFC ad released in the US brought back the legendary founder, Colonel Sanders

Chopra confirms that by adding, "This was the obvious next step in the journey of the brand's evolution. So it was about time that the brand moved to the next level and KFC Land only helps take the brand story forward using our distinctive assets like Colonel Sanders, helping consumers discover more about KFC. Over the next few months, the idea of KFC Land will start reflecting across all our upcoming marketing campaigns as well as extend to other digital touch points."

KFC's mascotisation of Colonel Sanders...

An international campaign titled "Lunchtime is coming..." by KFC UK and Ireland

With regards to the reason behind the recent paradigm shift from food to mascotisation, Chopra comments, "The Colonel is not a mascot he's an icon for the brand. Our intent is to build greater relevance and resonance for the brand with Indian consumers by familiarising them to the Colonel and his values."

KFC's mascotisation of Colonel Sanders...

Boarding pass for your flight to KFC Land

"We are convinced that now is the right juncture for the brand to use the Colonel, the founder of our deliciously fried chicken, to set the context of KFC land," Chopra clarifies.

KFC's mascotisation of Colonel Sanders...

KFC's Colonel Sanders at India Gate, Delhi

KFC's mascotisation of Colonel Sanders...
Krishna Mani

The idea for KFC Land is the brainchild of Krishna Mani, senior creative director, Ogilvy & Mather, who tells us, "We wanted to come up with a clutter-breaking brand campaign which would set KFC apart from other players in the industry. And the Colonel is the biggest asset that we have with his interesting journey and persona, Mani feels that it was both exciting and challenging for them to bring alive KFC Land. He clarifies, “Exciting since our brief was to create a 'Land' that every chicken-lover would crave to be a part of. And the challenge was to introduce Colonel Sanders to India for the first time; bringing alive his persona, ethos and energy!”

But will this campaign have fried-chicken lovers craving for more from the Colonel's kitchen? We asked the experts:-

KFC's mascotisation of Colonel Sanders...

Harish Bijoor

KFC's mascotisation of Colonel Sanders...

Ramanujam Sridhar

Harish Bijoor, brand-expert and founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, says, "The KFC-land theme, with its build up, teaser campaigns and all, gets the eyeballs."

"The film works in garnering attention onto the brand once again and continues to showcase the 'finger-lickin' good' line. The creative also attempts to showcase the fresh chicken line, albeit a bit unconvincingly. Until here, it works fine," Bijoor decodes.

However, beyond that, he feels that the brand has issues to address which they have not adequately done yet. "The key issue of being a fried option in a market that is looking for healthier alternatives is one that has not been addressed. Col. Sanders is an old mascot for the brand. This is a fresh re-introduction and, to that extent, it is bold and in the face, doing away with the 'heritage' imagery of the old Col. Sanders," he points out.

Ramanujam Sridhar, founder-CEO, brand-comm, makes a guess that the brand, with its growing turnover, is maybe, perhaps, emphasising the importance of India as a market, with a separate mascot which hopefully would be reinforced in future communication.

Sridhar finds it to be nothing new and is quite unmoved by the creative treatment of the ad as the communication still focuses on the juiciness and freshness of the chicken with analogies that appeal to their younger viewers.

"As communication goes, it's pretty predictable and perhaps marketers are more in love with their own mascots than consumers! Did it make me stand up and cheer? Sadly no!" he observes wryly.

Mascot-Mystery decoded

Kentucky Fried Chicken or KFC, it's more commonly used household name, is a fast food chicken restaurant chain founded by Colonel Harland David Sanders, an American businessman. He later acted as the company's brand ambassador and symbol and is embossed above the KFC logo.

Popular Indian film and theatre actor Denzil Smith has been roped in to play the 'mascot' of KFC in India, the grey-haired Southern Gentleman himself, Colonel Sanders.

"I am honoured to play this Colonel which is played by 14 other people all over the world. I am really honoured to be doing this part," he shares candidly, dressed in the signature look of the late Colonel Sanders.

Did you know?

A ‘Kentucky Colonel’ is the highest honour that can be bestowed upon an individual by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Thus, Sanders’ title was not granted by the military (although he did serve) but was honorary from the US state. The title “Colonel” is given in recognition of outstanding service to the community, state and nation. These colonels are regarded as Kentucky’s ambassadors of goodwill and fellowship around the world and consist of people from all walks of life.

Legend has it that luminaries such as Muhammad Ali, Jim Beam, Fred Astaire, Betty White, and Winston Churchill are among those who have been named a ‘Kentucky Colonel’.

KFC's mascotisation of Colonel Sanders...

Colonel Sanders meets Prince Narula

Colonel, as the brand wants to call Denzil, handpicked a few to be part of his exclusive India crew and this included "Veere Di Wedding" actress, Shikha Talsania, actor Sumeet Vyas, Reality show star, Prince Narula and South Indian model and actor, Raiza Wilson.