ORLANDO, FL: Kentucky Fried Chicken, the quick-service restaurant chain, has enjoyed a consistent pattern of growth having reinvigorated the brand, and returned Colonel Sanders, its iconic founder, to the core of its messaging.

Kevin Hochman, US President/Chief Concept Officer at Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Eric Baldwin, Executive Creative Director at Wieden+Kennedy, its agency, discussed this topic at the Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA) 2017 Masters of Marketing Conference.

And they reported that a campaign where a rotating cast of celebrities play Colonel Sanders in its TV ads, as well as efforts that employ the character of the Colonel in various innovative ways, have been a vital factor in fuelling growth.

“We’ve had 12 consecutive quarters of same-store sales growth, and we’re very much on track for a 13th and a 14th,” said Hochman. (For more, read WARC’s in-depth report: Kentucky Fried Chicken’s six-step program to brand revitalization.)

“And driving that charge is a new group of millennial customers whose favourable response to the question, ‘Do you consider this brand to eat lunch or dinner?’ has risen more than 40%.”

Alongside its tongue-in-cheek ads, the brand has engaged in numerous eye-grabbing activations featuring the character of Colonel Sanders, from an in-person appearance at a WWE event to releasing DC comic books starring its figurehead.

This strategy has the effect of encouraging short-term demand while also building a clear sense of the Kentucky Fried Chicken brand – something that had not always been the case in the past.

“We are paying the light bills so we can keep going,” Hochman said. “We are setting up the brand for future success and stability.”

Elaborating on this theme, Baldwin explained that the decision to have several big-name stars play Colonel Sanders – just like “James Bond or Batman” – in its TV ads has multiple benefits.

“They helped generate buzz, because each time we changed the Colonel, it got brought up in the news,” Baldwin told the ANA delegates.

“But they also helped draw attention to a product that people hadn’t been paying attention to for a long time … It also allowed us to tailor different Colonels to different product initiatives.”

Data sourced from WARC