The State of the Resurrected Colonel Address: Opinions on KFC’s New Colonels

How Social Insights Can Reveal What People are Actually Saying in the Buzz Around Your Campaigns

We all know zombies are trending, but has KFC taken it too far with their recent campaign resurrecting the Colonel Sanders spokesman in a new series of ads, featuring iconic SNL alumni Darrell Hammond and Norm Macdonald? While KFC shared that the Darrell Hammond effort was “phenomenally successful” and created substantial buzz for the brand (saying the change in SNL alumnus was to evolve the Colonel into a kind of Bond character), what were consumers really saying about how they liked the new representation?
Did audiences appreciate the old time charm, or was the campaign dead on arrival?

To find out what audiences and potential customers thought about the ads, Crimson Hexagon consulted the untapped opinions circulating on social media.
What do people think of the new campaign as a whole?
Isolating organic conversation since the launch of the new Colonel Sanders ads in early May, we can get an initial picture of what audiences thought of the campaign, and how well it’s performing.
Not only can we see that negative sentiment has dominated conversation at 66%, but we can see why people are responding negatively. Audiences find the new Colonel creepy or distasteful and this is responsible for driving negative conversation. This topic alone accounts for half of all negative conversation. Intriguingly enough, we can also see that the ads are inciting violent impulses in 11% of audience members.
How does conversation about the first SNL Colonel Sanders, Darrell Hammond, compare to conversation about the current Colonel, Norm Macdonald?
While discussion of Darrell Hammond accounts for the greater percentage of conversation over all, it is clear to see that in Norm Macdonald’s short tenure as Colonel, conversation about him has far outpaced conversation about Hammond—amassing more than 10,000 posts in his first month as Colonel.
But beyond volume, how has Macdonald affected the Colonel campaign?
Getting more specific, we can track how sentiment changes over time. Illustrated in the graphic below, there is a striking upswing in positive sentiment between early and mid August when Norm Macdonald took over as the man in the white suit.
Zooming in on Hammond’s tenure as Colonel, we can see that negative reception is an overwhelming 77% of conversation. During this time, the Colonel “creeping out” audiences accounts for more than half of all negative conversation. Furthermore, 14% of people want to hurt or injure the Colonel, and 4% of discussants say the ads make them not want to go to KFC.
However, when Norm Macdonald took up the mantel, the change in conversation is prominent. Positive reception skyrockets to 70% of all conversation—an increase of 67% from when Hammond was in office.
We can see that 85% of this positive conversation is driven by excitement over Norm Macdonald and audiences believing he is the better Colonel. Audiences agree with the new series ads: he is the real Colonel Sanders. Negative conversation dwindles dramatically to a mere 30% of all conversation. (Although there is some lingering discussion of Hammond and the creepy vibe conversation.)
Taking this a step farther, we can understand that it is Norm Macdonald and the positive attachment that audiences have to him that is doing wonders for the KFC campaign, and perhaps not even the idea of resurrecting the Colonel at all. (General positive sentiment about the idea of a new Colonel Sanders or resurrecting the Colonel is only 5%.) It’s not the historic icon, but the man who’s wearing the white suit that audiences are responding to.
So how does the revitalizing of the Colonel Sanders spokesman relate to overall brand conversation?
A look at trends in volume of discussion for the KFC brand compared to the Colonel Sanders campaign can illustrate how these discussions relate. During Hammond’s tenure, upticks in conversation about him and the new colonel ads do not spike at the same rate as KFC brand discussion. In other words, discussion of the new colonel is failing to translate to brand discussion.
However, during Macdonald’s tenure, we can see that brand conversation and Colonel Sanders conversation spike simultaneously, conversation about Macdonald as Colonel actually surpassing general brand discussion.
More holistically, is the campaign reaching its target audience? Is it appealing to KFC brand audience, and what has been the effect of the campaign on brand audience?
Using Crimson’s AffinitiesTM tool, we can identify what audiences are engaging with a particular campaign through their general interests on social media. This allows us a picture into what types of people are responding and what types are not. We compared KFC brand audience to the Colonel Sanders campaign audience to see if the campaign was resonating with KFC brand audience.
Brand to Campaign Affinities
As seen through the interests falling along the central axis, there is overlapping engagement with brand and campaign by a college audience interested in entertainment and media. However, general brand audience before the campaign shows 58 times more interest in coupons and nine times more interest in parenting, as well as nine times more interest in One Direction and three times more interested in homework. The campaign, on the other hand, shows an audience more interested in the NFL and NASCAR (two times more interest), Politico and Star Trek (three times more interest), as well as Louis C. K. and comics (four times more interest). So while general brand discussing is more prevalent with parents and kids, campaign discussion managed to resonate with other interest groups or niche sectors.
But we didn’t stop there. We also compared the KFC brand audience before and after the campaign to understand if there had been any change in KFC’s audience as a result of the campaign.
Pre and Post Campaign Affinities
The majority of interests cluster towards the center of the graphic—illustrating equal interest before and after the campaign. These interests range from entertainment news and celebrities to sports and Snapchat. This indicates that KFC has maintained a core audience of young people interested in entertainment and media.
There are however, some differentiating interests pre and post campaign. Pre-campaign, audience interest is 11 times greater for coupons, 10 times greater for parenting, and 7 times greater for being a mom. There is also is two times greater interest in beauty, cooking and the X Factor. Post-campaign, we see two times greater interest in NASCAR, Politico, and the Indianapolis 500. This illustrates that pre campaign discussion was stronger with parents and those interested in cooking, and post campaign brand discussion succeeded in securing a new audience interested in politics and auto racing.
In short, opinion analyses such as those offered by Crimson Hexagon, can show you what people are saying in the buzz around a new campaign and who are the different subsets of respondents to those campaigns.

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