Emotional Storytelling Is KFC's Newest Ingredient

#50YearsofKFC campaign focuses on celebrating family, touching moments.


KFC celebrates it's 50th anniversary this year, and the brand has launched a campaign strategy that aims to win new customers by nurturing an emotional connection with consumers to match the love they have for the brand's "finger lickin' good" product. The heritage campaign will be championed by a digital first philosophy that seeks to match a "very strong product message" with an equally "strong brand message".

The white-haired, white-suited, Colonel Sanders’ has become a figure of modern legend. His recipe for specialty Kentucky Fried Chicken, coated with a secret blend of 11 herbs and spices, is one of the great examples of the American Dream; a global franchise built from humble beginnings, on the strength of a timeless product that has served hungry families around the world for generations.

It’s rather fitting that the flagship video content for the fast-food chain’s #50YearsofKFC anniversary campaign revolves around the theme of family.

A video created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty tells the story of a foster child’s experience bonding with a new family, and eventually growing up and starting his own. The ad’s message suggest that while life, and individual experiences, may change, the things that bring people together – the brands that are always there for them throughout their lives – remain the same.

Emotional Connections

This video isn’t KFC’s first attempt to build an emotional connection with consumers. Last year’s Christmas campaign video, “The Boy Who Learnt To Share”, told the touching tale of 6-year-old Charlie, who learns about the joy of sharing at Christmas with the help of KFC.

An earlier campaign, “Fans”, also has the same simple message:

Each story, essentially a short film, depicts simple stories of families that are brought together with a KFC meal at unremarkable, but nonetheless touching moments of their everyday lives.

As KFC marketing Chief David Timm told Marketing Magazine, “KFC is now looking to “connect with [consumers] on an emotional level rather than appeal to the rational side of their brain.”

The great Stanley Kubrick knew the power of simple but effective emotional storytelling in an brand’s advertising messages - as Sydney Pollack revealed the director had a little known obsession with English Nescafe ads, impressed by their ability to forge a emotional connection with viewers with poignant, efficient storytelling.

The KFC adverts are very much to the same merit. The strategy is to make KFC a brand “available for everybody,” rather than focussing on a “narrow appeal,” Timm said. The sea-change in strategy is based on research that consumers now expect a level of authenticity that enables them to connect with a brand on an emotional level.

It means that the challenge for KFC is in converting the “love [consumers have] of [their] product into the love of [their] brand”. Naturally, it is also the brand’s biggest opportunity. Timm continued:

“Marketing as a whole is undergoing transformation. We now know through neuroscience how people’s brains work and what affects their decision-making. So what we’re trying to do is take the new knowledge and say – this is how we put it together, this is how a brain actually works – and this is how we should be marketing.”

At the heart of the new strategy is the concept that, as Timm says, people make “emotional decisions that are “context dependent”… KFC is aiming to create that context.”

Digital First

To promote #50YearsofKFC, the fast-food chain have adopted a “digital first” philosophy that puts the brand at the forefront of digital marketing, and mobilizes the brand for the next decade rather than the next year. As Timm explained:

“If you fast forward 10 years from now nobody’s going to be thinking ‘TV and digital’ – it’s going to be digital first. So philosophically we’ve made the change, practically we’ve made the change.”

To accompany the #50YearsofKFC campaign, KFC are offering am effective lifetime’s supply of KFC for those willing to put their words to actions. Faced with the prospect of 50 years of free Kentucky Fried Chicken, eager fans have flocked to the brand’s social media channels to voice what they would do for a lifetime’s supply of free chicken.

The response from KFC social media representatives suggests that we may well see coverage of some of these devoted fan’s antics in the coming weeks and months.

Concept Stores

Adopting a digital mindset can transform every aspect of a brand’s business and service delivery. The commitment to transform the KFC brand itself into something consumers can love, has meant more than revising the brand’s marketing – the brand’s stores themselves have been redesigned from chaotic counters with the express aim of serving fast food, to a space in which consumers can feel at home.

KFC’s concept store in Bracknell features a coffee bar, complete with breakfast muffins and pastries in a attempt to draw the morning breakfast crowd. Upstairs, a spacious dining area set to ambient background music is more reminiscent of modern coffee shops than the functional plastic environment typically associated with fast food chains.

For the most part, it seems the brand has plenty of reason to celebrate, as they approach their 50th year with a vision and strategy that seeks to deliver real change.

“The most important thing for our brand is the customer experience,” Timm said, “What you see in advertising is important, but not nearly as important as what the brand actually delivers.”

Finger lickin’ fingers crossed – the brand may just find success in both.

Do you think KFC's digital first strategy will help the brand take first place in the fast food industry?