How KFC combined humour with nostalgia to generate public debate and reinvent itself

How KFC combined humour with nostalgia to generate public debate and reinvent itself


So firstly, an admission. I have more than just a casual interest in KFC. Back in 2017, my then agency, Unity, pitched for and lost this account. I was gutted. Rarely do you come across a brand with such baggage but also equal ambition to reinvent and budget to do it well. But instead of weeping I started watching. And what a show KFC has put on.

First came ‘The Whole Chicken’, a brave choice in the age of the vegan. And then, of course, disaster struck – with no chicken for the buying – which led to the now famous ‘FCK’* response. And most recently it has revived the Colonel himself, also using the very thing that nearly bought it to its knees to firmly re-establish its cultural currency – which had been sorely lacking – whilst also reminding us of its roots. Hats off to you KFC. Turns out you know how to pick your agencies.

The Big Idea

So what was the big idea? Well the first thing to say is it certainly wasn’t something from the pitch. This is a classic example of adapting to the changing world and understanding that a crisis can actually be part of your redemption. Lego was hit by a crisis back in 1942 when the factory housing the little wooden bricks burnt down. Lego’s founder Ole responded by rethinking and creating a version made of plastic. Enough said. Rather than hiding from this crisis behind a corporate voice it responded with guts with ‘FCK’. And now, again, it has actively embraced the very thing that got it in our news and feeds for the wrong reason, to tell us exactly what the brand is.

So breaking it down, in this latest campaign it splices footage from the crisis into a beautifully rendered film that leaves no room in the viewers mind that it is a brand for this age. But it does it with clips and VO from the Colonel himself – revealing him to be more than a cartoonish front man, but indeed a character with grit that tried and failed and tried again. In one fowl (sorry) swoop it positioned itself as human – as fallible as you and I – and made this a good thing. It got knocked down. But it got up again. With bells on. It’s almost like the crisis reminded it of its core brand values.

To promote the film it did the obvious with a major prime-time media buy. But it also raided the archives to find more clips of the good man that would support this narrative which were rolled out socially. An American artist was also commissioned to create outdoor ads that again used the past to present a brand for today.


You can tell already that I love it. I love its bravery – and this credit needs to go in equal measure to the client as much as the agencies behind it. How many of us have known in our hearts that boldness is the route to salvation only to have our thinking weakened by fear from those that pay the bills? I can just imagine the kinds of conversations that happened behind closed doors. Use the crisis as a focal point of reinvention – are you fcking crazy? Good on you team KFC.

In Hindsight

But I won’t get commissioned again if I’m a sycophant. So what would I do differently? I think in an age of weak leaders at the very highest echelons (really? You released her ‘cause Kim K told you too??) we all need to feel that grit is a worthy characteristic that we should celebrate, and that bad things can lead to great things if we channel them right. So maybe as well as celebrating the Colonel it could have found ways to recognise and reward this quality in others. This could have made the social element stronger and made it more interactive. And I also think that the overall campaign shape seemed a little formulaic for what was an incredible bit of creative.

So my Creative Moment score? A finger-lickin’ good 4 out of 5.

So back when Mother created ‘The Whole Chicken’ it was trying to tackle our concerns about what was in those tasty fried pieces. Turned out it just needed a crisis for us know what KFC is really made of.

*Disclosure – the dyslexic in me missed the point the first three times I saw it.

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