The Double Down sandwich is back. Is that good for KFC?

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

17 April 2014

At least it’s low carb

I’m of mixed minds when I heard the announcement that KFC is bringing back its Double Down sandwich, which is bacon, Monterey Jack cheese and sauce sandwiched between two slabs of fried chicken.

Yummy, huh? My two minds are this. On one hand, KFC is attempting what McDonald’s has been so good at – bringing back popular items on a limited-time basis in order to generate excitement. (Think the McRib.)

“The fast food market itself is shrinking a bit even as more players enter it.”


Double DownScarcity is a very powerful motivator. It suggests specialness and also encourages consumers to “get it now before it’s too late.” It’s a variation of the “call within the next 30 minutes to special order” advertisements. (Although those pitches are lies.)

But why the Double Down sandwich? Yes, it was popular when it was offered in 2010, but seems strange that it took KFC almost four years to bring it back. It may be that its owner, Yum! Brands, is getting desperate as it is coming off a poor 2013 showing.

And KFC isn’t exactly crushing the competition either. Its main competitor, Chick-fil-A, has surpassed KFC in sales despite having less than half of KFC’s locations. The return of Double Down reeks of nervousness.

There’s another part of this that bothers me, and one reason why I wonder if the Double Down will really spike KFC’s sales the way the McRib did for McDonald’s. KFC has lacked a meaningful brand position in an increasingly crowded fast food market.

Having worked for clients in this sector recently, we’ve found that very few of the fast food brands are unique. The fast food market itself is shrinking a bit even as more players enter it. That’s why many of the restaurants that have never served breakfast before are now, like Taco Bell. It’s where the most growth opportunity exists.

The fastest riser among all the major fast food chains is Hardee’s, owned by CKE Restaurants. And there’s a reason for that. It actually has a position, saying it is for the hearty eater and bucking the trend of healthy food. “Eat it Like You Mean It” has taken the fast food industry by storm, especially in the South.

I bring Hardee’s up because, even though it’s not known for chicken like KFC, the Double Down sandwich suggests the same position. It’s a sandwich you buy/eat while ignoring the calories. In a way, the ingredients and calories (610 calories, 37 grams of fat) would fit very snugly into “Eat It Like You Mean It.”

But KFC has no position. For quite some time, it has stationed itself on taste. “Finger Lickin’ Good” was the standard bearer, but it switched to “So Good” in 2011. Now, it has a campaign that says “How you KFC,” which is closely related to Sonic’s “This is how you Sonic.”

Both the Sonic and KFC themelines are nonsense and overly clever. (Which is why they can be ignored. They don’t mean anything.) And basing your brand on taste is not going to get a consumer to switch or consider you. The fast food restaurant a consumer already frequents has food they think taste good otherwise they wouldn’t go there. It’s like saying come to our bank because we have ATMs. (“So does mine!”) You only switch for something you don’t already have.

The Double Down sandwich may bring KFC a temporary rise in sales, but it won’t fix its problem. You can’t out-menu the competition. The long-term solution for KFC lies elsewhere.

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