Killing the Colonel, one snicker at a time

Originally posted on

For those of us desperately holding onto the cusp of the Millennial category, Colonel Sanders is an icon we remember fondly. He was a jovial Southern gentleman who only cared about making darn good fried chicken for his guests. He may have been a bit overprotective of his recipe, but who cared when the product was so delicious? It was a simple vision, and it worked well for KFC. Over the decades The Colonel was slowly phased out, as was the original brand name, Kentucky Fried Chicken. There wasn’t a big uproar as The Colonel himself has passed in 1980, it only seemed natural to move on. But now he’s back, or should I say his weirder and borderline creepy doppelgänger is back making a joke of the classic, beloved spokesperson icon.

Here’s a quick catch up for those who haven’t seen KFC’s recent advertising: KFC launched a new campaign featuring Saturday Night Live icon, Darrel Hammond. Hammond adorns the Colonel’s look from iconic white suit to prosthetics that gets him sort of close to almost looking just like Colonel Sanders. The prosthetics isn’t the only synthetic parts of the persona as Hammond adopts an exaggerated Southern accent and persona to the point of mockery. This week a new set of commercials for the fried chicken legend were launched featuring Hammond’s former comedy compatriot, Norm MacDonald. The spots derive from the same idea, same prosthetic Colonel Sanders, with a worse attempt at a Southern accent. So bad, in fact, he can’t keep the accent going long enough for a 30 second spot.

It’s quite evident that the agency responsible for this new angle is not from the South, nor have they spent any amount of time immersing themselves in Southern culture. It’s a result of basing cultural assumptions on commonly accepted stereotypes.

With every exaggerated snicker in the advertisement I cringe more and more.

Sure, I’m a Yankee-turned-Rebel, but since moving to the Southern US (ATL!) five years ago I’ve become quite fond of the mentality we have here. Southern hospitality is quite real and Colonel Sanders was a representation of that dying, endearing quality. With every exaggerated snicker in the advertisement I cringe more and more. Every second the mocking accent thickens I get a little more put off. I find myself asking: Is this really worth selling more fried chicken? What’s so wrong with being a good person, and actually caring about guests? Do Northerners actually think all Southerners are backwards idiots?

How would I answer in my opinion? No, selling more chicken at the expense of a benevolent icon is not worth it; there’s nothing wrong with being a beacon of good will and hospitality; and, yes, it seems Northerners think us Southerners are snickering fools.

KFC has a lot of endearing qualities. It sells comfort food that evokes feelings and thoughts of home, friends, family, and nostalgic good times. Those feelings are extremely powerful triggers for any generation, even the elusive Millennial. Far too often marketers and creatives rely on quippy wit, and tongue-in-cheek playfulness to drive storytelling and messaging. While we all enjoy a well-played pun, and timely jab of wit, sometimes that’s not what the brand’s communications demand. KFC is one such case.

I realize that KFC is a global brand, and not everyone understands the roots from which the company and its spokesperson originated. However, that’s no excuse to take the lazy approach of furthering a stereotype that misses the mark completely. KFC has the opportunity to use the good-natured, hospitable icon to create a tangible, authentic spirit inside and outside the four walls of the brand experience. It’s something no other competitor can own, yet they’ve chosen to tarnish the opportunity with a weird, mocking impostor.

One final note, the new KFC website is quite awesome.

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