KFC has announced the retirement of its Colonel Sanders brand mascot. The Colonel was a likeness of the restaurant’s founder, Harland Sanders, and is just the latest fast food icon to be faded out to make way for new brand appeals.
Fast food mascots were at one time a crucial branding characteristic, but that notion has gone by the wayside In recent years. McDonald’s jailed its Hamburglar and said goodbye to Grimace and Mayor McCheese; Taco Bell said adios to its talking Chihuahua; Dominos successfully avoided the Noid and Burger King overthrew the King.
It’s another result of changing consumer behaviors, and with that, fast food chains are starting to alter their appeal. Kitsch doesn’t sell consumers products the way it once did and, because of that, models like Chipotle’s and Panera Bread’s are the latest craze.
What’s more, the “foodie” culture has secured a strong consumer foothold nationwide, and people have become serious about what they eat. Given that, cartoony mascots, jingles and other light-hearted branding tactics are being shelved to make way for modern design, quality ingredients and general hipness that attracts the contemporary consumer.
Still, KFC’s decision to retire The Colonel should raise some concerns that communicators should recognize.
First, the public fears change. For instance, The Colonel got a facelift in 2006, and it was not well received. Prior to that, KFC changed its name from “Kentucky Fried Chicken” in order to give the brand more of an international flavor. The name change was not popular at first, and it took some time for the public to adjust.
Second, sometimes it pays to stick with what you know and what you do best. KFC sells fried chicken and comfort food, so attempting to compete with healthier and trendier restaurants could prove to be futile (after all, this is the same company that introduced us to fried chicken in place of bread for a bacon cheese melt).
The company’s choice to make its brand more homogenized could disenfranchise diehard customers, and there are no certainties this will attract new customers. So the company is taking a bit of a gamble on an industry trend, instead of seeking council from its most loyal consumers.
It’s doubtful that the Colonel will be the last mascot ousted, so Ronald McDonald, Jack Box, Wendy and Chuck E. Cheese should be afraid…very afraid.
Follow Caysey Welton: @CayseyW