Colonel Harland Sanders has for decades captured the fancy of the American public, usually over the course of dozens of 30-second commercials for KFC that break into TV programs. On Sunday, he won’t have to interrupt any longer.
He’s getting his own show.
Mario Lopez will star as the nation’s best-known fried-chicken spokesman in a steamy Lifetime “mini-movie” that hinges less on the chain’s “secret recipe” of 11 herbs and spices and more on dysfunctional family dynamics and forbidden love. And while the Lifetime program, “A Recipe for Seduction,” has all the hallmarks of one of the A+E-owned cable outlet’s high-drama potboilers, it is in essence a 15-minute commercial for the Yum Brands restaurant.
Most advertisers hope their commercials will spur consumers to buy their products after they see the spots. But KFC will use promotions for “Seduction,” which airs at noon on December 13, to order lunch. People who order KFC on Uber Eats for delivery can get six of the chain’s extra crispy tenders for free when they make a purchase totaling more than $20.
“We always want our brand to show up in interesting and unexpected ways in popular culture,” KFC said in a prepared statement. “The KFC and Lifetime mini-movie event is a perfect way to bring fans a fun opportunity to enjoy the holidays with family, friends, and loved ones.” KFC spent more than $195 million on traditional TV advertising in 2019, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending.
“A Recipe for Seduction” is just the latest ingredient in a long-simmering stew cooked up by Madison Avenue to foil the increasing disdain the average TV viewer has for traditional commercials. Streaming-video venues like Netflix, Disney Plus and Hulu allow subscribers to watch their favorites with fewer ads – and in many cases none. If advertisers can come up with commercial concepts that are as compelling as the programming they barge in upon, so the thinking goes, they might get consumers to pay more attention than has become the norm.
The Lifetime effort will look a lot like the stuff to which its fans might typically tune. Lopez is also starring in “FelizNoviDAD,” a network holiday movie that premiered last month and that will follow the KFC drama. After debuting on the network, “A Recipe for Seduction” will continue to be available throughout the holiday season on mylifetime.com/christmas-movies, and at all Lifetime apps, and video-on-demand platforms.
“Through a terrific cast, and with a wink to the unique sensibilities celebrated in Lifetime movies, this co-production spotlights each brand’s POV and marries them in a fun and authentic way,” says David DeSocio, executive vice president of ad sales marketing and partnerships at A+E Networks. The ad agency Wieden + Kennedy helped produce the KFC program.
Other advertisers have aspired to create commercials that try to look like independent content. NBC on November 25 aired a one-hour special co-produced by L’Oreal that celebrated female philanthropists. In 2014, WarnerMedia’s HLN aired a six-part reality series, “Growing America,” that was co-produced by Holiday Inn. The hotel chain figured prominently in some of the challenges faced by participants in the series. Discovery that same year aired a program that examined the familiar plagues from the story of Moses. Viewers were not expressly told that the show, “Surviving Exodus,” was commissioned by 20th Century Fox to drum up attention for the release of its movie “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”
Some efforts are decidedly more creative. Arby’s in 2014 released a 13-hour commercial talking about how it smoked brisket. The marathon spot played out only on a local MyNetwork affiliate in Duluth, Minn., but word of the stunt was enough to lure 350,000 unique visitors to watch the video on a website where the average visit lasted 38 minutes.
Yum Brands and KFC have long tested these waters. The chicken emporium made Colonel Sanders the star of several bespoke titles from DC Comics in 2015 and 2017 that put him alongside characters such as Green Lantern and the Flash. The company was a charter sponsor of “The Ocho,” ESPN’s celebration of off-kilter sports probably best left to the sidelines ,and in 2018 supported those efforts with longer-form vignettes that had sportscasters John Buccigross and Kenny Mayne holding forth on an “ESPN Ocho” set introducing new contests in which top athletes try to accomplish their feats while wearing KFC’s signature buckets.
The parent company is certainly cognizant of the power of movies and movie trailers. In 2018, it ran a series of ersatz movie trailers for the debut of its Taco Bell Nacho Fries, realizing TV viewers tended to pay more attention to coming attractions than they did to ads for floor polish or toothpaste.
KFC will face a challenge of a different sort when the movie runs on Sunday. Program ratings from Nielsen will be readily available within 24 hours – letting Lifetime as well as a host fast-food competitors understand quickly just how many people watched the steamy chicken drama in real time. KFC’s fried-fowl recipe may be secret, but one measure of its commercial’s success will not be.