At this point, the job of an advertisement is simply to punch through all the noise in whatever way necessary. Good impression, bad impression, none of it matters. All a company really cares about is getting their name stuck in your head, and they'll do anything it takes to make that happen.
Case in point: the bizarre new campaign that Kentucky Fried Chicken has been running. When they premiered the ads with Darrell Hammond playing Colonel Harlan Sanders, the founder of the company, I thought they were bizarre. Hammond's got a darkness and an anger that readers of his autobiography are familiar with, and there's something genuinely sinister and strange about his take on the character.
It's weird even calling Sanders a character, since he was a very real person who appeared in his own very real commercials for many years. He lived a fascinating life, and it wasn't until he was in his 60s that he even created the recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken. He looked like a cartoon parody of the ideal “Southern gentleman,” but he was a hands-on entrepreneur who took his chicken franchise seriously. He spent the last 20 years of his life only appearing in public wearing the famous white suit, goatee, string tie, and striking white hair.
The decision to bring Sanders back as the centerpiece of their marketing is an interesting one. For a while, the franchise chain had shortened their name to KFC, an attempt to rebrand themselves away from the southern identity. In an age where we are finally willing to have a conversation about some of the major symbology of the South, including the Confederate flag, it seems like the Kentucky Colonel imagery of old would be a hard one to resurrect. Instead of worrying about the controversy, KFC has decided to run this campaign where Colonel Sanders is presented as a straight-up weirdo.
The campaign got even weirder this week with the replacement of Darrell Hammond. In the new ads, Norm MacDonald plays the Colonel, and he refers directly to Darrell Hammond's ads and calls him an “impostor.” The joke's getting so meta at this point that I'm not sure even they could tell us what the joke is now. Is the joke that Norm MacDonald looks even less like the actual Sanders and that he plays directly to the camera, basically winking at us when he calls out Hammond as a fake? Is it true that this is just the start of an even longer campaign in which they continue to replace each actor with a more and more unusual choice?
When the people who make the ads tell you directly that they don't care if you love or hate them, it's obvious we've turned a major cultural corner. At this point, I hope they keep ratcheting things up on this campaign and making it more and more insane. I want to see Terry Crews as Colonel Sanders. I want to see Helen Mirren as Colonel Sanders. They should give us Gerard Depardieu as Colonel Sanders. No idea should be too insane. No interpretation should be too creepy. I hope Darrell Hammond is just the first step on a long and truly mad road that KFC has mapped out.
Can you think of other campaigns where it feels like they actively don't care if you like it or not? There's the nightmarish Burger King with the messed-up plastic head. Or there's the weird new sexy Hamburglar campaign for example. Hell, if McDonald's wants in on some of this action, they should cast Patton Oswalt as Ray Kroc and unearth some “vintage” footage of Kroc in the early days of McDonald's talking about his dream of fat little boys and fat little girls all over America. Let's steer into the aesthetic of the unnerving. Why not?