It is ironic that Kentucky Fried Chicken, aka KFC, has chosen George Hamilton to portray the latest version of the company’s founder, Colonel Harland David Sanders. The commercial is aimed for those who are unaware of who the real Colonel Sanders was, but many of them don’t know who George Hamilton is either or why he is perfect to play the “Extra Crispy Colonel.”
Kevin Hochman, KFC’s chief marketing officer, says that George Hamilton was chosen for the new commercials to let people know that the restaurant has the “extra crispy” as second choice, but what younger people won’t understand is that Hollywood has teased Hamilton because of his very dark tanned skin for many years. “Extra Crispy Chicken is fried to a golden brown. George Hamilton isn’t fried to a golden brown, but he is tanned to a golden brown,” says Hochman.
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Though still successful, KFC has struggled to remain a relevant brand and when the company changed its name to KFC years ago, the effort somewhat backfired.
“A lot of people don’t really understand why we changed our name years ago,” Hockman told Fast Co-Create in a recent interview. “The intent was to say, ‘We have more than just fried products. We have grilled products, we have sides. There are a lot of different ways that you can eat at a Kentucky Fried Chicken besides having fried chicken.'” And that’s when internet rumors began spreading that the company was selling mutant chicken parts.
“Over the years, a lot of customers, believe it or not, think that we can’t legally say the word ‘chicken,’ and the shame of the whole thing is that all of our chickens are from farms right here in Arkansas and Georgia and states that you know. We don’t use any steroids or added hormones to our chickens. That’s illegal. I would go to jail if that were the case.”
In recent years, instead of trying to remove themselves from their founder, KFC has learned to embrace the Colonel. The recent ads are part of what the company calls their “re-Colonelization of KFC.”
“We were thinking about, ‘What’s our North Star?’ And our North Star is the Colonel, and doing things the hard way… When we’re at our best, the Colonel is at the center of everything. When he passed, we started losing our way a little bit.”
The first actor to portray the Colonel was Saturday Night Live alum Darrell Hammond, who was later switched out six months later with comedian Norm Macdonald taking over the role. Then, Jim Gaffigan filled the white dress shoes. Each actor looked and sounded remarkably like the original Colonel, and many of those watching haven’t even been aware that the actors have been switched. (It has been reported that Hammond felt slighted when the company choose to replace him with Macdonald, but Hockman states that his contract was for only six months.)
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While the previous commercials (though odd) tried to portray an authentic Colonel Sanders, this new commercial is more blatant as George Hamilton (who will be competing on Celebrity Family Feud on July 10) is the “Extra Crispy Colonel,” which sort of makes fun of both the original Colonel Sanders and his many imposters.
So, why does KFC keep switching the actors? “The thought was that we would bring him back in different iterations, depending on the promotional window,” says Hockman and says that there will be more to come, but won’t spill any details on who the next “Colonels” will be, as that would “ruin the surprise.” He says that the new campaign is all about creating the “unexpected.”
“We thought George Hamilton was very unexpected, and we’ve got to make sure that we keep it fresh and unexpected, and still stay relevant—that’s the one thing for sure that we’re going to do … As long as we stay unexpected, all things are in-game.”
[Photo by Rich Polk / Getty Images]