Ad Space – The Colonel Eternal

You are now entering Ad Space, a realm of commercials, brought before us so we might examine how they work, and discuss why we both love and hate them so. So it is written …

The Product:
Kentucky Fried Chicken

The Promotions:

The Pitch:
Colonel Sanders can never die, only the actors who play him.

The evolution of Colonel Sanders as an advertising mascot is really quite bizarre.

In case you were unaware, Colonel Harland Sanders was a real dude, who founded the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain of restaurants back in the 1950’s. Initially, when they appeared in KFC advertising, it was as the company’s founder and CEO, promoting their own business. That’s something hundreds of other entrepreneurs have done, putting a human face to the company and showing that they personally stand behind their product.

As it turned out, in addition to cooking a mean bird, Colonel Sanders had an eye for showmanship. The genial air they put on in advertisements, coupled with their commitment to never being seen in public without their signature white suit, made them a celebrity. The image of Colonel Sanders became inseparable from Kentucky Fried Chicken. Even after Sanders sold the restaurants, they continued to promote the company, retaining a position as a traveling showman … or, to put it more cynically, as the corporate mascot.

After Sanders died in 1980, KFC kept on using the Colonel’s face as a logo, though there were no new commercials featuring Colonel Sanders because, how could there be? The guy was dead.

Well, in the 90’s, some KFC executive got the genius idea, “Why don’t we just recast? We can recast a real person, right?”

That’s just what they did. Since then, KFC has had a score of actors portray the Colonel, turning the man who founded their company into a fictional mascot no different from Ronald McDonald or the Taco Bell Chihuahua.

I’m struggling to think of anyone else that’s happened to. Wendy’s hasn’t brought in actors to replace Dave Thomas. Imagine how bizarre it’d feel if Apple hired someone to play Steve Jobs in a WWE match, or if Disney commissioned a Lifetime romantic thriller about Walt Disney.

Oh, did I forget to include the time KFC got a Lifetime movie made about Colonel Sanders? Here ya go!