- Yum! Brands' KFC is partnering with Frito-Lay on a new sandwich called the Cheetos Sandwich, which will hit KFC locations nationwide on July 1, according to an announcement shared with Marketing Dive. To promote the new menu item, the QSR brand has introduced Cheetos' Chester Cheetah mascot as its new spokesperson. Chester will be the first brand icon to portray the KFC founder Colonel Harland Sanders.
- The suit-clad Chester Cheetah will promote the new menu items in KFC's social channels, as well as in TV ads that push the new co-branded partnership. The Cheetos Sandwich is an enhanced version of the KFC Crispy Colonel sandwich. Additional KFC menu items have been updated with a Cheetos flair.
- Last week, Chester Cheetah hosted an in-person activation at a New York City KFC, which included a digital billboard, and an exclusive KFC + Cheetos pop-up event where consumers got an early taste of the new menu item. Chester was also featured in a 28 x 12-foot painted mural for the activation.
This Cheetos campaign is the first time KFC has given the Colonel Sanders slot over to another brand's iconic mascot, after relying primarily on celebrity brand ambassadors and other creative methods of spicing up Sanders' image. The co-branded approach could engage fans of both the Frito-Lay snack and the Yum! Brands QSR around the limited-time promotion.
For KFC, it appears that working with a CPG giant means using a CPG's approach to marketing. The pop-up aspect of the campaign is a play out of a CPG's playbook; Cheetos has run several similar pop-up efforts to win over foodie millennial consumers who are generally attracted to experiential activations. This new approach offers KFC a social media appeal by giving fans an early glance at a new menu item and creating a physical mural — experiences that can be shared on social media to extend the campaign's reach.
Cheetos is a strong partner when it comes to sales, ranking No. 1 in the "cheese snacks" category with almost 87% market share, with $1.62 billion in sales, according to retail analysts IRI cited in Forbes. Previously, KFC teamed with Mtn Dew for an exclusive soda flavor.
KFC has cycled through a number of Sanders iterations to promote new menu items over the past few years. Sanders first returned as a brand mascot in 2005 when actor Darrell Hammond played Sanders in a YouTube video with the "The State of Kentucky Fried Chicken Address." Since then, Sanders has been played by comedian Jason Alexander in a 60-second spot that parodied '80s and '90s sitcoms and by an "extra crispy" George Hamilton in a campy spot that took place on a yacht, among others.
Beyond celebrities, Colonel Sanders has been used to brandish the brand's irreverent humor in campaigns that featured the colonel as a CGI hipster and a shirtless "Chickendales" dancer. To capitalize on the mascot's popularity, KFC released a limited-edition line of Colonel Sanders Pop! vinyl figures in partnership with collectibles brand Funko that sold out in 11 minutes.