Creepy KFC Colonel Sanders

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

1 June 2015

KFC Colonel Sanders is creepy and odd

Brand equity is often a misunderstood marketing term. For many, it means whatever the brand has in its history, and you leverage it. How the company was founded. What ads it once used to run, whether it’s Mikey eating Life cereal or Coke teaching the “whole world to sing” (whether it was devised by Don Draper or not.)

That is, many marketers simply go back to the vault for their upcoming marketing endeavors and call it using brand equity. What most miss is that brand equity is something about your brand that means something to audiences. Just because you have it doesn’t mean that it’s meaningful in any way.

In fact, sometimes it can appear to be desperate.


“The creepy factor can’t be overlooked here because, well, Colonel Sanders was a real person”

This is where KFC finds itself by rolling out new ads featuring an actor resurrecting the body of KFC Colonel Sanders – like that’s not creepy or anything.

The creepy factor can’t be overlooked here because, well, Colonel Sanders was a real person, not a made-up character like Ronald McDonald. He founded Kentucky Fried Chicken back in the 50s and became the face of the chain much like John Schnatter is for Papa John’s now. (Although in a much less impactful manner.)

The brand equity of KFC Colonel Sanders.

The brand equity of Colonel Sanders resides back in the 70s and, for those audiences fast food chains are trying to reach (think: young), any equity of Colonel Sanders just feels like a grab from the dark ages and is, therefore, relatively unknown.

KFC Colonel SandersKFC, now owned by Yum! Brands, has struggled in recent years because its fried chicken has been deemed unhealthy by many target audiences (which is why it re-branded Kentucky Fried Chicken to simply KFC). It has been striving for relevancy ever since.

And let’s be frank. Not only did they bring back KFC Colonel Sanders in an attempt to lay claim to a brand equity, it did it after seeing the success of Wendy’s which has an appealing actress play Wendy, the namesake daughter for which founder Dave Thomas named his chain.

But there’s a striking difference between KFC and Wendy’s. Wendy always seemed like a made-up character to us all. It was Dave Thomas who was the real person – and think how creepy and misguided it would have been for Wendy’s to trot out an actor playing him in new advertising.

The brand equity the KFC Colonel Sanders ads are striving for simply doesn’t exist in this form. It has little meaning to current audiences and, even if it did, it hasn’t been re-thought for today. (Wendy’s, for example, completely re-thought the Wendy character.)

Quick word of advice: Before you start using something as a brand equity, find out first if it had any true meaning to current audiences.

And, please, don’t make it creepy.

1 Comment

  1. JPB

    This 20year old disguised as Col Sanders is all wrong. I haven’t been to KFC in over 20 years since I had to ask the people smoking cigarettes at the back door to place and complete my order at Highway 138 in Stockbridge, GA. From seeing this ultra creepy ad, I see I have not missed much. Perhaps if you want to appeal to a younger crowd he should be updating his twitter as an order is placed. The real Col Sanders is hopefully spinning in his grave due to this abomination.


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