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KFC’s ‘Unthink’ campaign slow to catch on

Since last year’s introduction of grilled chicken and the rollout last month of its popular Double Down sandwich, KFC has asked customers in its advertising to “unthink” how they already perceived the Louisville-based chain.

While those items continue to sell well, however, new research indicates that the “Unthink” marketing campaign hasn’t broken through with consumers yet, most of whom still associate the brand with its longtime tagline “Finger lickin’ good.” Respondents to a survey conducted by E-Poll Market Research, when asked to identify the slogan of KFC and other quick-service brands, identified “Unthink” only 2 percent of the time, while 45 percent of respondents came up with the old tagline.

Yet KFC, a division of Yum! Brands Inc., doesn’t mind that consumers continue to think of “Finger lickin’ good,” especially as its more recent Kentucky Grilled Chicken and Double Down items continue to sell, said company spokesman Rick Maynard.

“Everyone in the KFC family is very happy that customers still associate our brand with ‘Finger lickin’ good,’” Maynard said. “That slogan was born before 1960, so it has about a 50-year head start on ‘Unthink.’ It’s as much a part of our heritage as buckets of chicken and the Colonel’s white suit.”

While noting that sales and press awareness for KFC’s products have been strong, Gerry Philpott, president and chief executive of Encino, Calif.-based E-Poll, was surprised to find that the chain’s new slogan was “almost dead on arrival.”

“The success of the Double Down has more to do with the novelty of it, plus a lot of pickup from blogs and all the news coverage,” Philpott said. “When KFC got a new slogan, you’d think more people would recognize it, but they don’t.”

Other quick-service chains’ slogans fare better in recall with consumers right now, he noted. For instance, McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” was recalled by 60 percent of respondents, compared with 6 percent for its former tagline, “You deserve a break today.” Burger King’s “Have it your way” slogan had a 62-percent recall, compared with 10 percent of people still thinking the chain is “Home of the Whopper.” Taco Bell had 31 percent of respondents remembering “Think outside the bun,” while 16 percent of them still recalled “Run for the border” tagline.

“In most cases, time does help,” Philpott said. “If KFC sticks with ‘Unthink’ for another year, those levels definitely will improve.”

Maynard said KFC already is satisfied with the awareness and sales results the new slogan has brought about and is happy to take a similar long-term view.

“The ‘Unthink’ campaign launched at the same time we introduced Kentucky Grilled Chicken, which proved to be the biggest new-product introduction in the company’s history,” he said. “It was effective in challenging our consumers to think about more than fried chicken when they think of KFC. The campaign also marked the first time in five years that our advertising awareness grew among customers. We are very happy with the results of the ‘Unthink’ campaign.”

By the end of 2009, more than 65 million people had tried Kentucky Grilled Chicken, prompting several “Grilled Nation” commercials in the “Unthink” campaign, KFC said. The item also topped the “Most Memorable Product Launch” online survey by Boston-based Schneider Associates along with IRI and Sentient Decision Science.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].

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