Haute cuisine, the finger lickin' way

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Ronald McDonald, brace yourself! Colonel Sanders is on the war path. Yes, the fast food chain formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken (now more tastefully dubbed KFC, although still sporting the Colonel's smiling, bespectacled face), has launched a pounds l0m advertising challenge to McDonald's supremacy in the fast food market.

The new campaign created by advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather stars the TV presenter Dani Behr and US comic Ryan Stiles, best known to UK audiences for his regular appearances on Who's Line Is It Anyway? on Channel 4.

The action takes place in an American fire station (where else?) As firefighter Stiles sits eating breakfast he smells something, but what? The hunky crew leap into action along with the ubiquitous Ms Behr who, clad in cropped-top T-shirt and fireman's trousers, energetically slides down the fire station's pole. The fire engine screams off down the road to a nearby KFC, where the crew are last seen eagerly consuming Colonel Sanders' delights as a burning building blazes unnoticed in the background.

It is the first part of a new strategy to reposition KFC as a more mainstream lunch and family supper venue. It is the latest in a number of image-boosting attempts in recent years which have ranged from "bargain bucket" price promotions to an attempt to invent a super-cool image through a combination of a jazzy soundtrack by jazz-funk band Us3 and swirly graphics.

However, in advertising terms KFC has proven to be a tough nut to crack. "It has to persuade consumers to go to KFC by choice rather than because it's the last stop on the way home after the pub," a source close to the campaign confides. Or, as KFC marketing director Martin Shuker more discreetly puts it: "It's about communicating quality." Why? Because, believe it or not, in the competitive fast food market, that's what counts.

The thinking behind the initiative is "aroma". "The special smell of KFC is a unique trigger," says Shuker. "KFC has food values unrivalled in the quick service restaurant market - it's wholesome, natural, real food made from quality chicken."

If this doesn't tally with your last memory of eating inside a KFC, it was either too late at night or you were drunk. Probably both. Because another aim of KFC's marketing efforts in recent years has been to boost custom at times other than when the pubs close.

"Already, we have established a strong evening business with family meals - either eaten in or taken away," says Shuker. "Our other focus is building up our lunch-time business, primarily amongst 16-to-34-year-olds."

Recent product development has focused on both - family packs targeting the former, market, new and improved chicken burgers aimed at the latter.

Why Martin and Dani? Because they're "popular" and "fun", of course. Celebrity endorsement says more about the added values of a brand than simply showing the product, Shuker explains.

It is the first time KFC has taken this approach. But it is a strategy that the parent company PepsiCo has already used to good effect for its other restaurant businesses; Pizza Hut has recently capitalised on the combined assets of Pamela Anderson and Damon Hill.

The "aroma strategy" marks the culmination of a four-year refocusing which, he claims, has so far boosted UK sales 10 per cent to pounds 220m. Undoubtedly, the BSE beef scare has been some help. Yet KFC cannot rely on the misfortunes of its rivals. It now has 400 outlets in this country but, in line with an expansion strategy for the whole of Europe, is planning to grow these by 20 per cent a year. To put things in perspective, McDonald's currently has around 750 UK outlets, Burger King around 350.

"People are choosing KFC more often at lunch time and at dinner," Shuker insists. "Now, we need a high quality, clear statement and a reduced reliance on just promotional messages."

In other words: to distance itself once and for all from the notion that all it's good for is cheap grub for the past caring after a long night out on the town. Pass the bucket.