KFC Corp.

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KFC Corp.

1441 Gardiner Lane
Louisville, Kentucky 40213
Telephone: (502) 874-1000
Fax: (502) 874-8291
Web site: www.kfc.com



Despite 50 years of selling "finger lickin' good" fried chicken, Kentucky Fried Chicken in the early 1990s Corp. decided to change with the times. Besides changing its menu offerings to include healthier choices, such as roasted chicken and salads, the company further distanced the brand from its greasy past by dropping its full name and adopting the moniker "KFC." An editorial in Advertising Age stated, "It made sense then to diversify the menu … But the chain's jettisoning of a venerable name—and distancing from the word fried—was ill-conceived and damaging. It made a clear brand fuzzy." Even worse for the company, the strategy failed. KFC's business went into a downward spiral. After trying several tactics to win back customers—including a series of advertising efforts promoting its fried chicken as health food, which landed the chain in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission—in 2003 KFC returned to its Southern-fried roots and launched a new marketing campaign called "Chicken Capital USA."

The campaign, created by KFC's agency Foote Cone & Belding, kicked off with a television spot that promoted a "Fried with Pride" tagline and featured country-music star Trace Adkins singing while average people declared their love for chicken. The company also dropped its initials and returned to using its full name. Additional marketing had the chain joining forces with NASCAR heavyweight Dale Earnhardt, Jr., to sponsor the Chance 2 Motorsports racing team.

Writing for the Nation's Restaurant News, Gregg Cebrzynski said of the campaign, "[It] adheres to the fundamental approach of staying true to the brand and the product, giving consumers a reason to try the product and entertaining viewers along the way … This campaign is just what KFC needed: presenting fried chicken as fun to eat—the fat calories be damned." In addition, the Ad Age/IAG Quarterly Ad Performance Report (based on research conducted by the firm Intermedia Advertising Group) listed one of the "Chicken Capital USA" campaign's spots as "the most-recalled new TV ad of the second quarter of 2004."


In 1992 Kentucky Fried Chicken abandoned its full name if favor of its initials, shifted its product focus from what it did best—fried chicken—to roasted chicken, and dropped the well-known tagline that helped build the brand, "Finger Lickin' Good," for less memorable slogans such as "America Loves What the Colonel Cooks" and "Kitchen Fresh Chicken." The changes brought trouble to the 50-year-old company that had come to represent old-fashioned comfort food to many consumers. An editorial in Advertising Age stated that, while it made sense to add healthier options to its menu offerings, "particularly for a chain that sells lots of family meals and needs to offer something for family members who don't want traditional fried chicken," it did not make sense for the company to drop its name. "It implied there was something unmentionable about KFC's former middle name." The editorial said that in making the changes "KFC violated basic rules that ailing marketers often forget when a business and market is in flux. Marketers need to be what they are, be authentic, be real. If you sell a product, make it the best you can, be proud of it, and don't waffle."

It took 14 years, but Kentucky Fried Chicken finally recognized that its success was in its roots. A company spokeswoman told Advertising Age, "People have asked why we changed the name back in the '90s and that was because we offered more non-fried products. Consumers tell us they love Kentucky Fried Chicken and many of our customers never stopped calling us Kentucky Fried Chicken." The chain reverted back to its full name and offered its fried food with pride but kept its healthier products on the menu as well. It launched the "Chicken Capital USA" campaign to let people know that it was moving back to its Southern roots.


Kentucky Fried Chicken's main target had always been busy families hungry for affordable, quick, and complete meals. Fried chicken was the chain's mainstay and the reason its customers flocked to the restaurant. KFC spent years promoting its various fried foods and "finger lickin' good" crispy chicken. But customers' tastes had changed, and to appeal to those who had become worried about the health detriments associated with eating fried food, KFC introduced rotisserie chicken. The effort was a dismal failure when the roasters did not work properly, and diet- and health-conscious consumers continued to avoid the restaurant. Then in 2004 the chain's "Chicken Capital USA" campaign was introduced along with new menu items such as baked chicken. The old favorite, fried chicken, was still on the menu. The campaign was meant to broaden KFC's reach to include 20-something women and men, middle-class adult Americans, and even diet-conscious consumers. Company president and chief concept officer Gregg Dedrick told Cebrzynski of the Nation's Restaurant News that the new product offerings were a way to "offer lunch and dinner options for everyone in the family."


In 2005 Kentucky Fried Chicken opened a store in Louisville, Kentucky, featuring a new logo and an updated, more youthful, and slimmer image of the original Colonel Sanders caricature that had been used to promote the product since its beginnings. The restaurant's interior featured low tables, ottomans, and a digital jukebox. Added to the contemporary decor was a new menu that harkened back to the chain's Southern roots and featured its core menu item—fried chicken—along with other Southern-style comfort foods, such as popcorn shrimp, collard greens, and sweet-potato pie.

In an interview with the Nation's Restaurant News, Tre Musco, chief creative officer of KFC's brand-imaging agency, said that the chain's "current image is a little dated and doesn't have a feel and contemporary image that relates to younger consumers who are looking for a healthier lifestyle. So what we want to do is bring a lot of respect to the heritage of the brand in a more contemporary way. The 'old-school cool' approach takes KFC's brand heritage and reinterprets it in a fresh, hip way."

The Nation's Restaurant News reported that the new Louisville restaurant followed the remodeling of a store in Washington, D.C. Company spokeswoman Bonnie Warschauer told the publication that sales rose 20 percent at the Washington restaurant following its remodeling and reopening. She explained that KFC planned to update 50 test stores in the chain's other locations.


While Kentucky Fried Chicken struggled to return to its fried roots and recapture customers, the number two fried chicken chain, Chick-fil-A, Inc., with more than 1,100 outlets nationwide and $1.5 billion in sales in 2003, embraced its heritage and attracted customers to its stores with a marketing strategy that included carnival-like parties and the offer of free food at new stores. To promote the opening of a new Chick-fil-A restaurant in Texas in 2004, the company celebrated with music and prizes, and the first 100 adults in the door received coupons good for a year's worth of free combo meals. A report in the Dallas Morning News stated that fans of the chain's fried chicken had gathered outside the store up to 24 hours in advance of its opening, "with the devotion of followers seeking front-row concert tickets." According to the report, "It's at least the 45th such event nationwide since the program was launched." Jerry Collins, a Dallas-based marketing and advertising consultant, estimated that the cost of the Texas event, including the 100 free meals, was about $50,000. He told the Dallas Morning News that, while the expense was high for a single restaurant, "For brand image and brand identity, that's cheap."

Chick-fil-A also promoted its brand through a campaign themed "Eat Mor Chikin" that featured cows encouraging consumers to avoid eating beef. The long-running campaign—the title of which was misspelled because cows had purportedly written it—starred the bovines on merchandise such as calendars, stuffed toys, and clothing as well as in radio and television spots and on billboards. Following the introduction of the campaign Chick-fil-A's brand awareness increased 44 percent in the chain's top 27 markets, and system-wide sales tripled. Like KFC, the chain also used a race-car driver in its marketing, partnering with stock-car legend Kyle Petty to sponsor the "Kyle Petty Charity Ride across America."

Number three in the fried-chicken market, Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits (held by AFC Enterprises, Inc.), followed the path of Kentucky Fried Chicken and moved away from its fried history and into the health-food arena by offering what the Gazette of Colorado Springs described as "chicken in slimmed-down versions." Popeyes also ignored the labels other chains used to avoid the fried stigma, such as "tender strips" or "crispy nuggets," opting instead for humor and honesty, calling its lighter offering "Naked Chicken." Along with the unbreaded chicken, Popeyes offered dieting customers seasoned green beans instead of fries.

Unlike its competitors, Popeyes did not use race-car drivers to promote its product offerings. Its marketing, themed "Stand Up for Flavor," used humor, featuring comedian Bruce Bruce in a series of spots designed to maintain the chain's sales momentum. And although Bruce was "a heavy guy," whose appearance may have reminded consumers that fried chicken and mashed potatoes were not diet food, the company's chief marketing officer, Rob Calderin, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the comedian's main job "would be to appeal to the chain's core audience, especially African-Americans, who have been loyal customers. He was the right person at the right time for our brand. The notion of humor and the irreverence of Bruce Bruce is what our food is all about."


Speaking of Kentucky Fried Chicken's campaign to revert to its roots, revive its brand, and win back customers, David Aaker, a professor of marketing at the University of California, Berkeley, said in an interview with Advertising Age, "Every time a brand gets into trouble, one way to get out of it is to go back to your heritage and figure out what you used to be." Another marketing professor, John Swan of St. John's University in New York, added, "KFC has an authenticity that's less about fried chicken than it is about family gatherings after church or for a hearty lunch…. They finally understood the essence of the brand." To help with KFC's rebranding, or the re-embracing of its heritage, Foote, Cone & Belding created the "Chicken Country USA" campaign.

"Chicken Country USA" featured a variety of spots with country-music star Trace Adkins singing catchy jingles while average Americans—from truckers and football players to kids and sexy young women—enjoyed a chicken meal. One spot had a child eating chicken while dressed in a T-shirt that proclaimed "I'm in the Colonel's Army." Another spot, aimed at women, featured a "diva" going through a KFC drive-through to pick up some roasted chicken. Building further on the success of the "Chicken Capital USA" campaign, the chain partnered with race-car driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., to sponsor six races in the NASCAR Busch Series in 2004. As part of the promotion the company issued limited-edition KFC commemorative buckets signed by Earnhardt with his quote, "My Favorite Chicken," beneath his picture.

According to a report in the Nation's Restaurant News, the new campaign clearly presented both the brand and the product message. Additionally, it successfully used contemporary images to present an aging brand that was a distinct switch from the dull campaigns the chain had used in the past. David Novak, chairman and chief executive officer of KFC's parent company, Yum Brands, took a cautionary approach to KFC's "everything old is new again" strategy, however. He said to Nation's Restaurant News, "A brand's heritage can either take you forward or it can hold you back. What we don't want to do is live in the past at KFC."


Kentucky Fried Chicken's marketing strategy paid off, as indicated by the fact that TV spots for "Chicken Capital USA" occupied 4 of the top 10 spots on Advertising Age magazine's list of most-recalled commercials. In addition, the magazine named one KFC commercial as the most-recalled new television spot of the second quarter in 2004. An editorial in Advertising Age stated, "Kentucky Fried Chicken takes a risk in putting attention back on 'fried' even as critics blame fatty fast food for Americans' obesity. That's a risk worth taking. Kentucky Fried Chicken is an iconic brand that can thrive if it makes a product as good as its name."

Improvements in the company's sales also were attributed to the campaign's success. Five months after "Chicken Capital USA" kicked off, Yum Brands, KFC's parent company, reported that the chain had "posted a 2 percent increase in U.S. same-store sales for the quarter, ending a prolonged slump," and linked this success with the "Chicken Capital USA" campaign.


Cebrzynski, Gregg. "KFC, Facing Slump, Serves Up 'Roasted' Items." Nation's Restaurant News, May 24, 2004.

――――――. "Latest TV Spots for KFC Send Strong Message about the Brand." Nation's Restaurant News, July 5, 2004.

"Editorial: No Shame in KFC's Real Name." Advertising Age May 2, 2005.

Frumkin, Paul. "Beak to the Future: Chicken Chains Take Flight." Nation's Restaurant News, June 27, 2005.

Horovitz, Bruce. "KFC to Boast about Roasted Chicken." USA Today, April 27, 2004.

"KFC Most-Recalled Ad of Quarter." Advertising Age, August 2, 2004.

"Late News; Red Cell's Daley Said to Be in Talks about Role at FCB." Advertising Age, May 3, 2004.

Lewis, Herschell Gordon. "Fried Chicken from the Chicken Hearted." Direct, July 1, 2004.

MacArthur, Kate, "KFC Spells It Out: Chain Takes Pride in Being Fried." Advertising Age, April 25, 2005.

Powell, Jennifer Heldt. "Kentucky Fried Roots Return." Boston Herald, April 21, 2005.

Schreiner, Bruce. "Yum Brands Reports 13 Percent Earnings." AP Online, October 5, 2004. Available from 〈http://www.highbeam.com/library〉

Spielberg, Susan. "KFC Eyes Return to 'Kentucky Fried' Roots." Nation's Restaurant News, May 2, 2005.

                                                Rayna Bailey