Last week KFC unveiled a new ad campaign rooted so deeply in nostalgia you’d think you were living in 1965. It’s a smart move– hiring Darrell Hammond to play Colonel Sanders, singing a simple song that gets stuck in your head after play 1, giving the people what they desperately need: FRIED CHICKEN!
Then there’s this hilarious site: The Hall of Colonels! You play video games, watch a purposefully awkward hilariously acted “play”, and learn all about the illustrious life of the KFC Founder.
The real and still really dead KFC Founder, Col. Harland Sanders.
Maybe it’s because McDonalds has just claimed back the Hamburgler, and maybe because America has finally gotten it together that health and fast food are hardly synonymous, but the nostalgia (and the revamping the dead guy thing) seem to be the choice du jour for fast food restaurants.
Whether or not advertisers are selling out forward thinking in HOW health and fast food could ever be synonymous (me and Jake having embarked on multiple cross country schleps in our life beg and scream out for YES), choosing to double down (ha meant it) in nostalgia seems to be a small space to grow into. Even the visuals are honed in on the “really authentically real, you guys!” look.
All that’s fine and good, but I’m more curious about whether or not there are ethical lines in bringing back a human spokesperson for the sake of an ad campaign. Maybe it would be Colonel Sanders number 1 dream: to continue to sell his chicken from beyond the grave. He seemed like a super and VERY interesting human being displayed via the site: a chicken selling Ernest Hemingway-type, but is that saying more about who we are than we are meaning to? If we’re creating generations of humans who know more about the reference of something rather than the thing itself being referenced– are we not living as if xerox copies are the same as the copies they.. copied? Like the gentleman who sold a printed out picture of an xbox on eBay. Somebody bought it, but I’d give anything to prove that the purchaser was real mad with what showed up.
If we can recreate and refashion individuals to sell things beyond their grave, much like the music industry is doing with holograms and performing– how much of a person is left alone with respect to their personhood? How much do we get to keep for ourselves– even if we live in the public eye? Do we, once deceased, become more of a myth and less of a person? Are we totally completely up for grabs in this sort of capacity? What level can we start to say “this is too much”, if we ever can, if there ever IS that level?
I realize that repurposing and appropriating passed on celebrities for advertising campaigns is a wildly used and accepted thing, I’m not really referring to that– as appropriating a performance of an actor is different /can be different than recreating a human being sponsoring their product.
You don’t see Wendy’s resurrecting the image, likeness, and characterisms of a deceased Dave Thomas. What you see is a personification of Wendy’s brands tenants: red and red hair, young female, sassy but friendly attitude, a kind of obviousness in their choices and qualities used. (Wendy’s is shown to be “healthier” than McDonalds etc). They use this character in various settings (the office, a car ride to show freedom of choice and joy of living) giving the food a more emotional context. KFC is also doing that, just in a way that takes dead celebrity’s (or delebs, as they’re seriously known in short hand) to a new level. And again, Weiden + Kennedy did (and always does) an incredible job with each and every account they grace, but sometimes (like with that Levi’s ad) they do go too far in the guise of conceptual and artful advertising. At the end of the day they used a beautiful recording of Walt Whitman to sell me the idea that Levi’s creates or denotes freedom, and they’re using Darrell Hammond’s awesome talents to sell me the idea that fried chicken is wholesome. I get it, it’s advertising– but where is the foundational center from which this concept bears fruit? Are we/is it all up for use? Or can we ever say “there’s a limit and no matter how delicious your chicken is, you’ve crossed it”