The latest actor to don the white goatee, eyeglasses, suit and black tie of KFC’s Colonel Sanders is Vincent Kartheiser, best known for his portrayal of the always-scheming Pete Campbell on AMC’s Mad Men. The fried-chicken chain officially launches its new advertising campaign — in which Kartheiser appears as "heartthrob" Nashville Hot Colonel — on Monday. Of note: The ad looks like one Campbell’s firm, Sterling Cooper, might have dreamt up, with an assist from one Don Draper.
As far as fast food mascots go, Sanders has a pretty rich history. That’s because, unlike the McDonald’s hamburglar or the Chick-fil-A cows, KFC’s mascot is based on a real person: Harland David Sanders, the founder of the fast food chain.
Even after selling the Kentucky Fried Chicken corporation in 1964, Sanders remained the face of the company until his death in 1980. But in the years following, the chicken chain found itself losing market share to other chains like Chick-fil-A.
In 2015, KFC embarked on a massive rebranding campaign, resurrecting the Colonel as the brand’s spokesperson. Of course, by then, the real Colonel was long gone, so the chain turned to actors and comedians to bring him back to life. Everyone from Saturday Night Live‘s Darrell Hammond to the impeccably-tanned George Hamilton have portrayed the Colonel.
The latest iteration, portrayed by Kartheiser, will promote the return of KFC’s Nashville Hot Chicken. And, seeing as how Kartheiser’s Colonel is younger and fresher than the others, it’s perhaps fitting that he’ll also be launching a new item: Hot Chicken Littles.
In a press release, Kartheiser described himself as the human embodiment of Nashville Hot Chicken: “a bit of a rebel decked out in authentic Nashville flavor — a perfect combination of classic and cool.” Though the fast food version is pretty much a ripoff of authentic Nashville hot chicken, the chain has certainly done its part to popularize the dish. According to KFC, Google searches for “Nashville Hot” increased more than 700 percent when it introduced introduced Nashville Hot to its menu this past January.