Colonel Sanders goes stellar
There seems to be a “mcflurry” of PR activity in the food and confectionary world. Burger King and Cadbury have both taken proactive steps to pull advertising and sponsorship. It is brilliant brand opportunism perhaps driven by the deep sense of paranoia that these respective industries are consumed by that has forced safety first action.
It’s interesting to note that across the Atlantic the Yum! food empire is rather more bullish at the same time and has chosen to take a proactive step to emblazon the KFC brand across the globe.
I suspect I am not the only publicist that has to listen to the whining and pleading of a client asking to be bowled over by a big idea: one of those “pearlers” that might signal a brand defining moment.
A stalwart “hero idea”, (God I hate that phrase from the marketeers slanguage), which gets regularly trotted out by a retained ad agency is the suggestion about create a big poster. Brands usually feel comfortable with this ubiquitous ad agency suggestion and often consider spending an obscene amount of cash to create a poster to end all outdoor posters because it comes from that end of the street. If I had a pound for every time I have heard a brand custodian suggest that a billboard might either be a) projected on the moon or b) seen from space or snapped by a orbiting satellite, I might be as rich as Sir Martin Sorrell.
This week KFC decided to flash its corporate dick by unveiling an image of Colonel Saunders on a horizontal billboard that could be seen from space. When you are peddling your boneless chicken bits in over a 100 countries and still have global ambitions to plunder even more territories, then marketing ploys need to have global appeal. So this stunt deserves a slap on the back, even if it seems not to have made much of a splash in Britain. I loved the idea of using the medium but failed to see an underlying message other than a brand identification.
Before some blogger starts to think that I am going to whine on about how it was all done years before by some long forgotten pr man who died in penury in a flea bitten motel in the mid West, then shock horror, I am not. Praise to the brand for taking the risk, but the stunt has a potential problem. We are in a brave new world, and food brands in particular have to watch their backs. The modern world demands that fast food brands have a greater transparency about the products that they peddle. Perhaps the most talked about health issue currently is the one which surrounds Trans Fats. Yum! Brands that owns Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC seems to be demonstrating the need to tackle this issue, but by pulling this brave stunt before they have global ubiquity, they may run the risk of opening up a debate that they are trying to manage.
These companies that strike a pose, raising their heads above the parapet run the risk of provoking debate. Thousands of corporate PR companies make huge amounts of dosh managing health messages on behalf of global brands. We are all now more conscious about what we digest, and huge food brands are clearly anxious about their corporate responsibilities in this arena.
It’s surprising that KFC have pulled this stunt while they are trying to steer themselves through some vicious global currents. The internet is a powerful medium for anti- corporate message and a tidal wave of blogs operate to wound brands that fail to engage with online debates. A stunt of this scale has no message, it’s just designed to make powerful connections for the brand, and as such will always fuel net chatter.
The art of any great stunt is to generate word of mouth, but if the brand (in this case) has failed to get his house in order globally, then the fall out could be immense. Tackling the Trans fat issue on a global level, to try to produce healthier products, could open up avenues for marketing agencies to produce this kind of stunt more often in their drive to sell more product. If this position lacks integrity, then it will drive the corporate terrorists to their keyboards and web publishing software to attack the underbelly of the smiling Colonel Sanders.