KFC selects MullenLowe as AOR to complete marketing makeover

Linda J. Dodson

Dive Brief:

  • KFC U.S. on Feb. 10 selected MullenLowe as its strategic and creative lead agency of record, per a press release emailed to Marketing Dive. The move was effective immediately, with the core team at the agency’s Boston office.
  • After a review that began in September 2021, MullenLowe was selected due to its approach to modern communication, especially in digital and social channels, with the agency’s agility around culture and experience with 360-degree campaigns across full-funnel marketing channels cited by KFC CMO Nick Chavez in the press release.
  • KFC’s marketing shakeup appears to be complete, with the latest move resulting in what Chavez calls a “complete integrated agency team.” Along with MullenLowe, the team includes Spark Foundry (media planning and buying), Edelman (public relations), Basic (digital) and Nimbus (multicultural creative).

Dive Insight:

KFC’s creative account — reportedly worth $20 million in annual agency revenue — is a big win for IPG’s MullenLowe, which also counts Acura, Corona and Credit Karma among its client portfolio. It is a blow to Wieden + Kennedy, one of ad world’s biggest independent agencies, and another sign that agencies that are part of large holding groups could again be on the rise as account reviews continue their rapid pace in 2022.

In selecting MullenLowe, KFC cited the agency’s mastery of modern communication in digital and social channels that have become increasingly key for engaging consumers, especially as behaviors changed and accelerated by the pandemic become permanent.

“MullenLowe is an agency that is moving at the speed of culture and is well-versed in 360-degree campaigns across full-funnel marketing channels,” CMO Nick Chavez said in a statement. “They understand the consumer, the consumer’s needs, and how to shift consumer behavior.”

The need to be closer to and the ability to move with consumer culture has become a marketing imperative as brands look to engage with younger consumers who are difficult to reach through traditional advertising channels. The prioritizing of culture could have been part of the thinking behind the chain’s hiring of Nick Chavez, formerly senior vice president of sales, marketing and communications at Nintendo of America, as U.S. CMO. Similarly, fellow Yum Brands marketer Taco Bell selected Cashmere as its culture agency of record last year.

Wieden + Kennedy had handled KFC’s creative and ad-buying since 2015 and 2018, respectively, and the change-up was surprising, especially as the agency had been behind campaigns that made headlines — and drove sales — with edgy, off-the-wall humor. However, KFC’s decision to drop the agency came as the chain reportedly had concerns over an increasing average consumer age and the brand falling behind competitors Popeye’s and Chick-fil-A in the “chicken sandwich wars.” KFC in January selected Publicis agency Spark Foundry to take over media responsibilities from Wieden + Kennedy.

KFC U.S. same-store sales grew 4% during Q4 2021, while same-store sales increased 12% on a two-year basis, per the press release. With its agency team now complete, the chain is seeking to build on eight consecutive years of same-store sales growth and “a significant brand turnaround” that began in 2015 — the latter coinciding with Wieden + Kennedy’s tenure as creative AOR.

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