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The New KFC Is a Half-Baked Plea to Millennials

Chicken chain hits the reset button.

The new KFC is here
The new KFC is here

It's no big secret: fast food chains need millennials to notice them. So much so that the official lobby for McDonald's, Burger King, Yum! Brands, Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, and countless others, has a dedicated page on its website that dispenses nuggets of wisdom on how to market to the coveted demographic.

"Millennials — also known as Generation Y and Generation Now — are a large and diverse market with significant spending power. The progressive restaurateur will maintain an increasing awareness of them," the all-powerful National Restaurant Association explains to its members.

KFC, a Yum! Brands property, seems to have taken the millennial-driven advice to "offer novelty" and "communicate with a warm, personal tone" to heart. In a press release this week, the fried chicken chain announced "a multi-year revitalization strategy to refresh 70 percent of the brand’s 4,500 retail stores by the end of 2017." The huge revamp comes on the heels of KFC's milestone 75th anniversary, in which it awkwardly re-introduced America to Colonel Sanders, via Saturday Night Live alums Darrell Hammond and Norm Macdonald.

The obvious wooing of millennials is just as flagrant in KFC's brand redesign. Where to begin? How about with the bid to "give the brand a modern look that captures the Colonel’s vintage flavor" with touches like chicken bucket chandeliers? Or, worse, chalkboards "updated daily, by hand, with the name of the farm that raised that day's meal." This from a chain that handles millions of chickens a year. Suddenly KFC is Dan Barber.

Other gems from KFC's press release include the incredible promise of "a carnivalesque spirit that is as playful as it is functional for the fast on-the-go noshing that Americans have grown accustomed to in a new era of family dining."

The firm tasked with executing this madcap vision is FRCH. Paul Lechleiter, chief creative officer at FRCH, expounded on the company's strategy. "The codes of Southern hospitality are an unwritten and subtle set of rules that highlight generosity of spirit and gratitude. We aimed to amp up those codes in a thoughtful, quintessentially Southern way where even the littlest things count in big ways. We played a lot with developing a vocabulary around scale in relation to the brand heritage, which led us to exaggerate the KFC brand colors, then soften the image with rustic red shutters to add a welcoming effect."

One of FRCH's design flourishes for the new KFC restaurants is a family-style "Colonel's table," "an oversized rustic table set for flex seating." Another feature that probably won't strike a chord with millennials is a photo wall that "showcases the Colonel’s legacy as one of the South’s original 'celebrity chefs.'" KFC hopes this will "foster a more meaningful relationship between the customers and brand."

Yum! Brands' millennial strategy doesn't end with its fried chicken flagship. Pizza Hut is getting a makeover too, starting with Texas, where the chain's restaurants are rolling out modernized ovens and spruced up interiors. Bloomberg recently reported the rebrand includes industrial-style lighting, exposed rock walls, and "ovens that can cook pizzas at 575 degrees Fahrenheit in just three minutes." By 2022, 700 Pizza Hut locations will undergo the vast retooling. David Gibbs, Pizza Hut's chief executive officer, told Bloomberg the "new concept is designed for speed," but surely, amid slumping company sales, that's just code for "we want some of that sweet millennial pizza money."

Meanwhile, the world's largest fast food chain has a millennial problem too. This, according to the ultimate experts, millennials themselves. When a brand strategy agency surveyed 1,000 people ages 13 to 32 about what they want McDonald's to improve on, the top priorities were, damningly, better and healthier food, better atmosphere, and more variety. The response from the Golden Arches? New bags, cups, and boxes, and pared-down graphics at all of the chain's U.S. stores. Maybe McDonald's should pay closer attention to its D.C. lobby group's website.