Article by Benedict Brook /
July 26, 2019 /
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At the moment it’s a blink and you’ll miss it change, but a subtle alteration to KFC in Australia could have an impact of mega bucket proportions to the takeaway chain worldwide.
A branding blast from the past is making a comeback — almost 30 years after it was unceremoniously dumped.
Australia is often a test bed for global chains — McCafe was invented here — and KFC’s new found love for its heritage could expand to other countries if it works down under.
KFC in Australia is re-embracing the chain’s full historic name it was known as prior to the 1990s: Kentucky Fried Chicken.
The company has admitted the full name is making a comeback but denied it’s the end for the initials “KFC” and they will be used alongside “Kentucky Fried Chicken.”
“KFC is who we are. Kentucky Fried Chicken is what we serve,” the company said in a statement. Yet images of new stores show no KFC branding whatsoever.
The “Finger Lickin’ Good” slogan has also made a comeback and the firm’s Australian arm is busying itself trademarking a slew of retro themed logos, including a new signature for Colonel Sanders.
Marketing and trends experts have told news.com.au, the re-emergence of the firm’s full name is a sign the public, wary of the modern day, is finding solace in nostalgia.
It’s also an embrace of so-called “dude food” and rejection of incessant messages for us to eat healthier.
But, they warn, KFC’s new ploy could end up being a FCK-up, limiting the “dirty chooks” flexibility to be more than just a chicken chain.
WHY DID IT CHANGE TO KFC IN THE FIRST PLACE?
Kentucky Fried Chicken, founded in 1930, abruptly dumped its full name in favour of its initials in 1991.
Since then rumours have swirled about why it happened. One wild conspiracy theory suggested the firm was breeding mutant chickens with extra legs so they could get harvest more drumsticks, which so appalled the US authorities they deemed them no longer to be chickens at all. Another was that the US state of Kentucky had attempted to extract royalties from any company that used the state’s name.
By changing its brand to “KFC”, the chain’s owner could — depending on what theory you fell for — sidestep the suggestion it was no longer using genuine chickens, or avoid depositing a few million dollars into Kentucky’s bank account.
Both reasons are complete piffle. It wasn’t the words “Kentucky” or “Chicken” that were the problem, but “Fried”.
KFC’s celebration of its buckets full of battered badness was no longer resonating with health conscious diners.
At the time, the boss of KFC’s US division Kyle Craig told Business Week magazine the rebrand was “the key to reduce dependence on the word ‘fried’,”. Its removal would allow the chain to also sell boiled chicken and chicken sandwiches, he hoped.
“At the time there was a potent fear of fat so there was a belief, apparently, that diners would forget that a fried chicken store was selling fried chicken” Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a trends expert at Melbourne University, told news.com.au.
“Flash forward several decades and fat has become much less of a bogeyman than sugar and bread.”
Indeed, in recent years, KFC appears to have embraced calorific consumption. How to explain the infamously excessive Double Down burger which replaced the buns with two fried chicken fillets sandwiching bacon, cheese and sauce?
“The fetish in Australia for US food — particularly the so-called ‘dude food’ — has been going for a few years,” said Dr Rosewarne.
Adelaide University marketing lecturer Dr Dean Wilkie said the thinking at KFC HQ might be that they’re messaging was just too complex.
“If you are a brand like KFC with a longstanding association with fried food you have three options: you can ignore the trend; you can change and say, actually we’re healthy; or you can own it.
“This is where they are particularly successful, by saying ‘you know we’re not the healthiest food around but we’re fun’. A lot of consumers see that as being authentic to themselves.”
An electronic screen said: “some call it fried gold, we call it Kentucky Fried Chicken”. That’s twice as many mentions of “fried” as, you know, actual “chicken”.
KFC and the full name now crop up interchangeably on packaging and on the firm’s app; a recent mock-up of a planned drive-through branch in Newcastle featured the full historic name prominently.
The company, owned by the US’s Yum Brands and operated in Australia by Collins Foods, has been on a trademark registering spree. According to IP Australia’s database, KFC is looking at protecting a range of retro logos, including a more homespun version of the famous Colonel Sanders image and a version of the Colonel’s signature.
The slogan “So good” has been sidelined in favour of “Finger Lickin’ Good” which made its first appearance in 1956.
The font of the new Kentucky Fried Chicken logo clearly resembles that used on the first Australian stores in the 1970s.
That’s no mistake, said Dr Rosewarne.
“Much of our contemporary popular culture is preoccupied with nostalgia. This is evident in the slew of remakes dominating cinemas as well as highly nostalgic shows like Stranger Things,” she said.
“Selling the world simple fried chicken again could be read as about tapping into an audience who craves a simpler time where the world was imagined — albeit inaccurately — as an easier time.
“Reverting to ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ might be a savvy branding technique in certain markets.”
COULD BE A FCK UP
Dr Wilke said the old name being sidelined for three decades shouldn’t pose an issue.
“Lots of young people will have learnt about Kentucky Fried Chicken from their parents and them talking about going to the ‘dirty chook’,” he said.
“What you want is brand salience, you want someone to think of KFC before others and they’re doing a better job at this than McDonald’s or Hungry Jacks.”
But the rebrand also risked painting KFC into a fried chicken-shaped corner, said Dr Wilkie.
“The Pizza Hut brand is always going to be limited to pizzas but the KFC (initials) allowed you to expand beyond chicken.”
In the US Dunkin’ Donuts has dropped the “Donuts” part of its name precisely so it can be known for its coffee as well.
Dr Rosewarne added KFC giving the bird to being healthy could cost it eventually: “ A rebranding is not going to change audiences’ feelings about fried chicken one way or the other, nor detract from their ability to Google calorie contents.”
Elsewhere around the world, KFC seems to be — at least for the time being — sticking by its initials. The US website contains the full name relatively discreetly, but it’s “KFC” that dominates.
The word “Kentucky” might carry some baggage, said Dr Rosewarne.
“One hunch as to why this strategy might be tested in Australia is that Kentucky — a Southern state and Trump country — has less stigma here than it would in the US as a whole,” she said.
“Playing up the word ‘Kentucky’ in the US market might not be particularly desirable right now.”
But one place where the full name will never appear is Canada. Or rather one particular part of Canada — the province of Quebec.
There, strict laws regarding the French language mean KFC is referred to as“PFK” or “Poulet Frit Kentucky”. It may be “Finger Lickin’ Good” to Australians but it will always “bon a sen lecher less doigts” to Quebeckers.
In a statement KFC denied to news.com.au it was a full rebrand and both names would appear alongside one another.
“KFC is who we are. Kentucky Fried Chicken is what we serve. Bringing back Kentucky Fried Chicken as part of our food story is a nod to our heritage.
“Customers will see some changes to select restaurants across Australia, but we will still be called KFC.”