KFC leans on Nintendo vet as it overhauls marketing to better target Gen Z

Last November, 11-year Nintendo veteran Nick Chavez left the “console wars” to join the “Chicken Sandwich Wars” as he took the reins of KFC’s marketing department. The newly appointed CMO told Adweek that he sees some parallels with Nintendo’s effort to broaden its gaming audience from core players to a wider, mainstream crowd. At KFC, Chavez is now leading the effort to widen the fast-food chain’s audience, and importantly, attract younger consumers to the business.

KFC’s longtime mascot, The Colonel, will remain a “critical part” of the company’s marketing, Chavez confirmed, but KFC will need to figure out how to incorporate The Colonel into campaigns that better resonate with younger people. According to Interpret’s New Media Measure®, only 17% of Gen Z consumers have visited a KFC location in the past three months, with 22% visiting Popeyes and 28% visiting Chick-fil-A. Where KFC has succeeded, however, is in appealing to both Millennials and Gen X consumers who prefer the chain to the competing chicken restaurants – the difference is particularly notable among Gen X.

To address this generational divide, KFC intends to leverage a social-first and digital-first marketing strategy and will be incorporating a proprietary tool that the team described as “social listening on steroids.” One recent initiative to attract younger customers was KFC’s plant-based chicken launch. The meatless product, labeled “Kentucky Fried Miracle,” was launched in partnership with Beyond Meat in January. KFC also tapped YouTube star and influencer Liza Koshy to promote the new plant-based offering. Koshy’s YouTube channel has more than 17.5 million subscribers.

Last December, shortly after Chavez joined the company, KFC also signed a year-long partnership with the hip-hop artist Jack Harlow. KFC kicked things off on December 13th with a food truck outside of Harlow’s hometown, Louisville, where the brand used 10-foot buckets as speakers to play Harlow’s music while promoting its fried-chicken sandwich. Fast-food chains are increasingly leveraging hip-hop personalities, as Popeyes recently teamed with Megan Thee Stallion, and McDonald’s partnered with Travis Scott on its Famous Orders platform last year.

Outside of the US, KFC has been diving into the world of esports as well. KFC recently extended its naming rights deal with Hong Kong-based Talon Esports. The companies will be jointly producing streetwear and content. As KFC continues its push to lure Gen Z, it would not be surprising to see the company expand its esports initiatives in the US and elsewhere.