30 August 2015

[branding] When Dead Celebrities Endorse

If they had only checked out the time they brought Orville Redenbacher from the dead. If only.

In May, 2015, KFC, as everyone by now knows, reincarnated (reintarnated, one could say) the legendary founder characater, Colonel Harland Sanders, in a series of slightly twisted commercials which simultaneously touched on KFC's heritage as well as dark places in our collective id that shouldn't have been touched; my recollection of the most-used adjective to descirbe SNL-alum Darrel Hammond's cackling Colonel is 'creepy'.

So, in July, KFC changed Colonels, literally. Now, filling the white suit is also-SNL-alum Norm Macdonald, a curious choice to portray the man if ever there was one. This USA Today article details some of the dissonances by some of the people who knew him. The narrative seems to be him, the real, sincere Colonel, coming back into play because some celebrity impersonator tried to take that identity. He's here to get it back, and to assert that you just can't throw a white suit on some super-funny Hollywood actor and have yourself a real Colonel, amusingly and metareferentially doing it while putting on a clip-on ribbon bowtie and, through quick-cuts, throwing a white suit on what appears to be a super-funny Hollywood actor.

I can't shake the idea that KFC has some sort of surreal long-game here. The self-referentially sarcastic frame is too plain for me to ignore. The USA Today article suggests that KFC's trimming everything in weird to refresh the brand, and maybe that's so.

But I still think everyone in branding who's trying to revive an old founder as a brand icon should see this 2007 ad for Orville Redenbacher. He was born in Indiana and died in California in 1995. There was, therefore, no live Orville to do a commercial with, and they wanted to touch on the country's history of using him in those aw-shucks commercials that he used to do so well.

So, what did they use to bring him back? CGI. The result is the scenic overlook to the Uncanny Valley:

I can't watch that without wondering what Outer Limits episode it was supposed to go in on. Response was in accordance; the brand's attempt to re-animate Orville pretty much stopped there.

Still, I can't help but giggle at the KFC Commercials … the oddball approach seems to be working, at least that way. And Macdonald is actually a slightly funnier Colonel than Hammond was, because Macdonald plays it so dry and straight ahead.

The bigger question I have? Why is it that suddenly American comedy is powered by SNL graduates. They seem to be taking over.

Now, there's a conspiracy story that needs to be told. 

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