We said it in April & Wednesday, KFC is going into review
Steve’s breakdown: We said it in April and agency yesterday (see below) KFC is going into review and here we go. (excuse our double headline – we’re excited)
LOUISVILLE, KY: KFC U.S. is looking for a new ad agency after working with Wieden+Kennedy Portland on creative and media, a move that comes as the agency is undergoing its own overhaul.
“We have informed W+K Portland that we are putting the KFC U.S. creative and media business up for review,” KFC said in a statement. “Since 2015, W+K has been a valuable part of our brand turnaround, creating memorable campaigns that grew brand consideration and sales. We are proud of what we have achieved together. As we look toward the next chapter of growth for KFC U.S., we must have the right partners in place to help us continue our momentum. W+K Portland will have the opportunity to compete to retain KFC business.”
A W+K spokeswoman confirmed the review and said the agency will participate. “We love this brand and the work we’ve done together. We are excited to seize the opportunity and see what could be next,” the spokeswoman told Ad Age.
SRI is the search consultant. KFC plans to run separate reviews for media and creative.
The U.S. is a critical piece of KFC’s overall business, accounting for 18% of KFC’s sales in 2020, behind China, its largest market with 27% of sales. The review comes as the chain’s U.S. systemwide sales are on the rise: They increased 11% in the first six months of 2021 while its same-store sales, a key metric that tracks performance at longstanding locations, rose 12%. According to two people familiar with the review, despite these sales, KFC’s average customer continues to get older and the brand is looking for a partner to help reach younger audiences.
KFC’s U.S. systemwide sales also increased last year, albeit at a slower clip than chicken leader Chick-fil-A and its other main rival Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, which is slightly smaller than KFC in terms of overall sales.
The review comes as KFC prepares to fill its vacant U.S. chief marketing officer role, which has been vacant since April, when Andrea Zahumensky left.
The review comes two years after W+K’s New York office won the massive McDonald’s U.S. creative account. The win put two competing fast food accounts in the same agency, surprising industry observers. W+K has said it was careful to put a firewall between the two accounts. Of late, W+K’s McDonald’s work—including its celebrity-filled “Famous Orders” campaign—has won praise.
Wieden+Kennedy Portland has been KFC’s U.S. creative agency since 2015, after the Yum Brands fast feeder moved from FCB. W+K added media duties in 2018.
The partnership led to a creative renaissance in the brand’s marketing, which largely centered on reinventing KFC’s founder and mascot Colonel Sanders in the form of multiple celebrities, including Darrell Hammond, Reba McEntire and Mario Lopez. The campaigns played with pop culture, spanning video games, romance novels, wrestling tournaments, merch and more. In 2018, KFC added its media account to W+K’s remit.
In June of this year, W+K parted ways with Eric Baldwin, who had been one of the creative leads on KFC. At the same time, the agency announced that it had hired Ana and Hermeti Balarin, the Brazilian husband-and-wife duo who steer creative at Mother London. The Balarins, set to come on board in October, made a big mark with their own KFC campaigns, such as the “FCK” apology ad following a local chicken shortage that led to multiple restaurant closures.
The agency today also announced that JP Petty, who had formerly served as head of social media at Wieden+Kennedy’s New York office, has stepped up into the role of executive creative director, joining the Balarins in Portland. Petty was credited for helping the agency make some of its most prominent brands part of the cultural conversation, with campaigns such as the McDonald’s Travis Scott “Famous Meals” campaign as well as a push to launch the Ford Bronco via digital and social in a pandemic-stricken world.
Also on Wednesday, Yum Brands announced that Sabir Sami is being promoted to CEO of the KFC division as of January 2022, with global responsibility for driving the chain’s brand strategy and performance. Sami is currently the KFC division’s chief operating officer and managing director of KFC Asia.