KFC: rebranding is futile

A loyal KFC patronScanning the Marketing Daily e-letter, Around the Net, an article originating in The Wall Street Journal yesterday caught my eye.

It began with some de ja vu.

The headline stated, “KFC Will Feature Non-Fried Chicken As Part Of Makeover“.

I thought they did that when they changed the name from Kentucky Fried Chicken. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the article by Thom Forbes to set the stage:  

“Acknowledging that its major U.S. businesses are in need of rejuvenation to meet changing consumer tastes and to fend off tough competitors, Yum Brands will restructure KFC sometime next year with non-fried chicken as ‘the centerpiece of our overall brand transformation,’ according to CEO David Novak.

“KFC, formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken, has dabbled with non-fried fare before, with mixed results. Its core business remains fried chicken on the bone. But disappointing sales indicate a need for dramatic change, Novak says, including ‘a more youthful and contemporary image.’ “

So, the question I pose: is re-branding worth the time and effort?

In this case, I believe KFC will always be Kentucky Fried Chicken, will always be represented by the “Colonel”, will always be known for fried chicken.

Attempting to change a brand’s promise and its heritage present difficulties, particularly if the brand is as strong as Kentucky Fried Chicken. Memories linger. Association dies slowly, if at all.

There’s another factor, too.

Have you ever noticed that some restraint locations just never seem to make it, even when a steak house becomes a sea food restaurant, then a Mexican grill, then an Asian buffet? No matter how you present it, a new restaurant in a once taunted location acquires at least a little of the reputation of the unsatisfactory first tenant. And this can go on for years. So old memories and associations may never die.

I believe KFC is destined to be the purveyor of the greasy stuff with a side of mashed spuds and a biscuit.

In short KFC equals fried chicken no matter how you cut it. Live with it, KFC.
Incidentally, if they had begun business with a name that wasn’t descriptive, they may not be in the trouble they’re in now. On the other hand, was that descriptive and preemptive name a key to their initial success?

What do you think? Comments welcome.

Martin

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