Brands That Know Who They Are Can Be Fearless

Chris WrenAugust 3, 20174 min

Enlightened brands should inspire us. Those that have figured out what they stand for, and what they don’t; who they’re for, and what they value project the kind of stability that can be counted on, and trusted. We find enlightened brands of all types: Global, National, Challenger, Cult and Niche – each with their own unique voice and personality. Stability and consistency when it comes to a brand’s reason to exist should not be thought of as negative or fixed in a mindset. It’s the enlightenment that comes with knowing who you are.

One brand I have been endlessly fascinated with in the past few months is chicken giant KFC.

Here’s a few of the things they’ve been up to:

  • To commemorate their 30th anniversary of operations in China, they branded a Huawei smartphone which includes a branded music app to share playlists with the restaurants.
  • Partnering with Mountain Dew, they launched a takeout container that doubles as a blue tooth controller called the “Gamer’s Box”.
  • For Mother’s Day, they revealed a romance novel written by Colonel Sanders called The Tender Wings of Desire which was available on Amazon.
  • They’ve got a limited edition clothing line that includes fried chicken socks, vintage iconic tees and other apparel.

In addition to these imaginative executions, a new TV spot recently debuted called “The Whole Chicken” is either an attempt to paint the chicken joint in a cleaner light or ride a wave of outrage courtesy or vegetarians and vegans via social media. The brand is also bringing back vintage Colonel Sanders to promote their original recipe offering. The original Colonel is a character loaded with controversy and is deeply misogynistic so for the brand to bring back a polarizing figure in today’s climate of social justice seems to buck against every current trend.

And maybe that’s the point.

The question remains though: Are the brand marketing folks at KFC brilliantly choreographing a ballet of genius transmedia storytelling, or are they reaching for every trick they can in a desperate attempt to stay relevant and capture dwindling attention?

If KFC knows themselves well enough to understand that, when the day is done, their audience loves cheap chicken, then everything they are doing seems brilliant, regardless of if it appeals to an individual’s (or commentator’s) sense of quality. The attitude surrounding cheap chicken comes to life so easily across many formats that otherwise would not readily seem to be in the chicken universe. The tawdry romance novel has to be one of the most original forms of content marketing ever done in the QSR vertical, and releasing it on Amazon is even more brilliant. Capturing a similar flavor of that attitude in a line of clothing seems absurd on one hand, but also fits with the personality. I mean, this is the same parent company who recently launched a fried chicken taco shell.

But if KFC really doesn’t know themselves, then these activities are just more noise, albeit inventive and original, but ultimately not channeled in a way that makes use of the potential velocity this approach can achieve when it is carefully managed.

Here are two takeaways from KFC’s activity of late:

  • Transmedia storytelling is here. Actually, it’s been here for a while. The entertainment and gaming industries are masters, but other brands are catching on, especially those brands that can own an attitude or feeling. How might your brand do something similar to KFC’s romance novel? Does your brand own enough around the attitudinal or emotional connection to make a believable leap into other forms of media in original and creative ways audiences have not seen?
  • Outrage can be a positive (so long as it’s not with your target audience). So what if vegans and vegetarians get in an uproar over a chicken joint’s new marketing campaign, they were never going to become customers anyway. There’s a lot of temptation to play it safe in marketing and given what we’ve seen with major brands and recent social outrage, there is temptation to make sure a brand campaign is as inclusive as possible. Should yours be? That depends on who you’re for and what your brand values are. But the problem with fireworks is that they don’t always explode the way you want them to.

When choreographed and strategic, marketing fireworks can dazzle, entertain, propel buzz and conversation and ultimately produce positive results. When they aren’t carefully planned with a deep understanding of who the target audience is and what they will and will not accept, the brand assumes too much risk.

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