- KFC installed an animatronic Colonel Harland Sanders robot to take orders at some drive-thru locations in honor of National Fried Chicken Day yesterday, according to a company press release.
- The experience, made with the help of agency Wieden + Kennedy, let customers engage with and order food from H.A.R.L.A.N.D (Human Assisted Robotic Linguistic Animatronic Networked Device), an artificial intelligence (AI), speech recognition and text-to-speech powered technology that turns the drive-thru operator's voice into the brand mascot's distinctive Southern drawl. Digital comedy channel Funny or Die also produced a video showcasing H.A.R.L.A.N.D in action.
- The technology interacts with customers in real time via a human operator for personalized conversations as if they were ordering from Sanders himself, resulting in a unique fast food experience.
AI technology is increasingly becoming a staple in marketers' arsenal, particularly for customer service functions via chatbots and personal assistants like Apple's Siri and Amazon Alexa. KFC's take on that idea is pointedly goofy and also not fully automated — it requires a human operator to direct and customize the conversation — but it brings a novelty element that boosts the otherwise routine drive-thru experience.
"We suspect drive-thru designers are heralding the H.A.R.L.A.N.D. technology as the greatest industry advancement since the addition of two-way communication itself," George Felix, KFC U.S. director of advertising, said in a cheeky statement.
The H.A.R.L.A.N.D experience wasn't available for all KFC fans, however, as the robot was only installed at select locations, but the effort came paired with a video message from the animatronic Colonel Sanders.
The National Fried Chicken Day campaign comes just one week after KFC catapulted its spicy "zinger" sandwich into space via a high-altitude balloon, according to The Verge. Although a sandwich in space may seem like more of a gimmick than a true marketing strategy to some consumers, KFC — which sells nearly 400 million pounds of chicken in the U.S. each year — is clearly trying to differentiate itself from competitors and ignite brand buzz with wacky tactics.
As AI technology improves and become more human-like, marketers will likely continue to integrate it into creative strategies like the robotic drive-thru mascot while surprising and engaging consumers.