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A Heaping Helping of KFC’s Comedy Colonels

The always bronze George Hamilton is the latest in the carousel of Colonel Sanders characters in a new, buzzy KFC TV ad campaign. Hamilton is the new face for KFC’s extra crispy chicken.

The always bronze George Hamilton is the latest in the carousel of Colonel Sanders characters in a new, buzzy KFC TV ad campaign. Hamilton is the new face for KFC’s extra crispy chicken.

Keeping track of who wears KFC’s Colonel Sanders iconic white suit is becoming as hard as holding on to a greasy fried chicken leg.

The latest addition to the cast is George Hamilton who depicts, with a certain unsettling realism, Extra Crispy Colonel Sanders. Hamilton follows in the footsteps of Darrell Hammond, Norm Macdonald and Jim Gaffigan to assume the Southern fried charm of KFC founder Harland Sanders who died in 1980.

The rotating Colonels is an attempt by the restaurant chain to add zip and lightheartedness to its TV ads. KFC Chief Marketing Officer Keven Hochman says, “Just like no one person can play the Colonel, no one Colonel can sell both Original Recipe and Extra Crispy fried chicken.” In the sequence of ads, the Macdonald and Gaffigan “Colonels” call their predecessors an impostor and a bad dream, respectively.

Who will be the next Colonel Sanders in KFC's clever marketing campaign?

Who will be the next Colonel Sanders in KFC's clever marketing campaign?

KFC has trafficked in Sanders’ image before. There was an animated Colonel in TV commercials from 1998-2001 with Randy Quaid’s voice.

Jim Gaffigan made a bold impression in his round as Colonel Sanders.

Jim Gaffigan made a bold impression in his round as Colonel Sanders.

Unquestionably the new actor-shifting Colonel routine has attracted notice and brought some fun to the KFC brand, but not everyone is happy. Some traditional KFC consumers find it disrespectful to have a carousel of Colonels replace the original brand ambassador.

Norm Macdonald brought his signature comedy style to the role, as each of his successors continues to do.

Norm Macdonald brought his signature comedy style to the role, as each of his successors continues to do.

Sanders may not have minded. In his lifetime, he worked as a steam engine stoker, insurance salesman, teamster in Cuba, lawyer and ferry boat operator before setting up a roadside stand next to a gas station in Kentucky to hawk his special recipe fried chicken. Viewed by some as a dandy Southern gentleman, Sanders was actually born in Indiana and spent much of his life away from Kentucky, including in Canada. He learned to cook after his father died, his mother was forced to take a job and he was left to care for his younger siblings. 

Many of Sanders’ occupations ended abruptly. He was fired as an insurance salesman for insubordination. His legal career ended after a brawl with a client.

There is plenty of evidence that Sanders was a character, but no trace that he told funny jokes, so the selection of an SNL regular, a Canadian stand-up comic and an American jokester who makes fun of fatherhood might seem questionable choices to carry on his legacy. George Hamilton is close to unthinkable, which is why his Colonel Sanders get-up features an unbuttoned white shirt with no tie.

Ironically, Hamilton makes the most sense as Colonel Sanders’ face for extra crispy chicken. "I like to think I know a thing or two about being extra crispy,” says the Hollywood actor known for his bronzed appearance. “It didn’t take long for me to get into character. One could argue that my entire career has been leading up to this role.” 

Instead of breezy ads, KFC might consider commissioning someone to make a movie about Sanders, though it may have to tone down the part about the Colonel throwing food on the floor, swearing and denouncing the restaurant chain he founded and was paid to promote in his adopted uniform. Sanders described KFC’s reformulated gravy as tasting like “wallpaper paste” and “sludge.”

A colorful character who once was almost a victim in a shootout involving a competitor was officially commissioned as a colonel in Kentucky and became a sort of cult figure. There is even a Japanese twist called the “Curse of the Colonel” that began when his statue was mistakenly tossed into a river causing the Hansin Tigers baseball team to go into a prolonged tailspin.

When Sanders died at age 90 in 1980, his body lay in state at the Kentucky state capitol and more than 1,000 people attended his funeral. Of course, Sanders was buried wearing his trademark white suit and string tie.

Online Quizzes: Recreational and Informative

Online quizzes, like this one from  AARP , are all the rage because they are an entertaining form of customer engagement. But of course, they also can be engagingly informative.

Online quizzes, like this one from AARP, are all the rage because they are an entertaining form of customer engagement. But of course, they also can be engagingly informative.

People shrink from responding to phone surveys, but they trip over themselves to participate in online questionnaires, like BuzzFeed’s personality quizzes

While public opinion pollsters have to make more calls to achieve a representative sample on a phone survey, people eagerly take online quizzes on anything and everything from personality types and careers to celebrities, dog breeds and sex. As changes in the marketplace are complicating traditional polling methods, maybe now is the time to consider the potential of online quizzes as an alternative.

Yes, the two have some big differences. Where public opinion polls dig for people’s views, online quizzes often only offer a chance for a few minutes of pleasurable escape. Public opinion polls, of course, are intended to produce findings. Online quizzes, on the other hand, are about fun and engagement, not hard numbers.

So yes, online quizzes may not generate “data” in the truest sense. However, they do reflect popular themes and gratify people’s narcissistic obsessions, especially those of the “me” generation. Why do people love me? What career should I pursue? Which superhero do I resemble? Who am I really?

Online quizzes aren’t just for the kids, though. AARP posts trivia games and online quizzes about entertainment, leisure, money management and dementia symptoms. In its effort to protect against elder financial abuse, AARP created “Catch the con quiz” featuring Frank Abagnale, Jr., whose story of outsmarting victims and the FBI was told in the Steven Spielberg movie Catch Me If You Can.

Ultimately, quizzes are just a cheaper version of contests to stimulate interaction. There usually aren’t any prizes or judges involved – people judge for themselves. But if a brand can glean tidbits of information about people from their quiz answers, it is engagement with a purpose.

In some cases, online quizzes can have an educational value. Participants can discover some unknown facts about subjects that interest them. And they can learn what they don’t know.

BuzzFeed is one of the leading practitioners of online quizzes. The site posts just about any kind of personality quiz imaginable, with fetching headlines that resemble a call to action. Data indicates BuzzFeed’s quizzes have drawn millions more page views than the company’s other content. 

The bottom line is that as polling faces participation challenges, online quizzes are enjoying unprecedented popularity, and they can help turn your electronic platform into a game board. While many topics are mostly for just fun, online quizzes can be a gentle introduction to more serious topics.

Online quizzes are more recreation than research, but that doesn’t diminish their value as an outreach tool that gets people talking.

Influencer Marketing Is a Good Investment

People trust other people more than advertising or promotions, which makes influencer marketing initiatives a good investment with long-term dividends.

People trust other people more than advertising or promotions, which makes influencer marketing initiatives a good investment with long-term dividends.

Influencer marketing is assuming a similar mission-critical role as influentials in market research.

Influentials are the people other people turn to for good advice, whether it’s what camera to buy or who to hire to remodel your kitchen. In research, influentials are a valuable resource because they are typically well-informed and willing to share what they know. They provide researchers with a clear window to see the wonders and warts of a product, service or idea.

Market influencers are the people others trust for advice on a buying decision. You don’t have to be a celebrity to be an influencer. In fact, most influencers today are bloggers or vloggers who offer views and advice in concentrated areas, whether it’s gluten-free food or smart parenting tips.

There is an analog to market influencers in the crisis communications space – third-party validation. Claims that an environmental spill has been cleaned up or that a financial practice has been corrected carry more weight if an independent third party verifies the claim. That party is essentially a “market influencer.”

The underlying truth is that people are prone to trust other people more than advertising or promotional pitches. A corollary is that brand managers, marketers and public affairs professionals often overlook the prowess of influencer marketing initiatives, especially ones that can ignite with a powerful employee advocacy campaign.

Jay Baer of Convince & Convert says influencer marketing is shockingly more successful than digital advertising, and he undertook a study to prove his point. Baer worked with a digital marketing firm and a research company that specializes in food to persuade 258 fitness and food influencers to create content related to Silk Almond Milk and its Meatless Monday initiative. The content was allowed to pulse out organically on social media without any paid promotion.

“Households exposed to influencer marketing purchased 10 percent more Silk products than the control group,” Baer reported. The return on investment after 12 months for the influencer marketing outreach was 11 times greater than the cost of banner ads, he added.

There are extended values as well, Baer explains. Influencer marketing content has a shelf life that keeps generating impressions. Brands can repurpose the content, which becomes in effect testimonials from trusted sources. And, the cost to produce the content is borne by the influencer.

‘We’ve known for years that online influencers can generate net-new impressions, clicks and even e-commerce sales,” Baer says. “But this new study demonstrates that online influencer marketing yields offline purchase shifts, too.”