Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM), parent of KFC, took some heat from shortening ?Kentucky Fried Chicken? to a three letter moniker. But now YUM appears to be backtracking, putting some faith in marketing KFC founder Col. Sanders to young fast food diners.
To celebrate the 120 birthday of its founder Colonel Sanders, KFC is beginning a yearlong PR blitz to not only reintroduce the fast-food chain?s real-life entrepreneur ? but? to educate the overwhelming majority of young American consumers who think he?s a fake. A new survey of young American adults ages 18-25 found that more than 60% could not identify Col. Harland Sanders and that 52% of them considered his image part of the restaurant?s fake branding.
In fact, Harland Sanders was a real person ? a man who in the 1970s was one of the world?s most recognizable celebrities. At age 65, with only a sixth-grade education and a $105 Social Security check, Sanders turned a Southern restaurant into a multi-million dollar global chicken empire. By 1976, he was ranked as the world’s second most recognizable celebrity after Muhammad Ali. Sander died at age 90.
But the real question behind KFC?s move isn?t whether the Colonel can stand toe-to-toe with Ali again. The question is whether KFC is just going to confuse diners more. When Kentucky Fried Chicken dropped ?Kentucky,? ?Fried? and,? yes, ?Chicken? from its name to become KFC, it was part of a move against greasy Southern identity alongside a push for its healthier-appearing grilled options.
The move that happened slowly through the 1990s has since led to marketing confusion with consumers ? is it healthy chicken offerings or fried-finger-lickin? good? ? and rankled chain owners. The Association of Kentucky Fried Chicken Franchisees blames this and its health-conscience ?unthink KFC? marketing campaign as the reason for poor revenues and a decrease in its customer base. U.S. sales saw a decline of -7% at KFC in th! e second quarter.
It?s worth noting that Yum isn?t the only stock to stumble with rebranding. PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP) still feels the burn from its 2009 (but short-lived) redesign of Tropicana orange juice packaging. In only two months ? with a 20% drop in sales ? the company reverted back to the original logo and branding. As well, Pepsi lost sales with another flagship product redesign ? Gatorade (or G as it is currently called). Volume sales of the sports drink fell 13.7% in the first quarter after the name change.
KFC is now opting to show its history to a public that seems largely indifferent to the man that made fried chicken a national obsession, not just a Southern one. But reintroducing the Colonel may be a little too late.
Though his legacy didn?t die with him, KFC is now ?unthinking? the decision to give it an early funeral. Whether it works and boosts sales, however, is anyone?s guess
As of this writing, Burke Speaker did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.
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