KFC plucks new Colonel Sanders from "SNL" stable

Comedian Norm MacDonald, a former cast member of "Saturday Night Live," as Colonel Sanders, in an advertisement by KFC.

KFC

The real Colonel Sanders might very well approve of the latest advertising twist from KFC. After all Col. Harland Sanders once said, "One has to remember that every failure can be a stepping stone to something better."

After decidedly mixed reviews for KFC's series of ads featuring comedian Darrell Hammond as the iconic, white-suited Southern gentlemen, the fast-food company is rehashing the campaign. This time, Hammond is out, with the company hiring fellow former "Saturday Night Live" star Norm Macdonald to play the Colonel.

Hammond's version of the Colonel wasn't universally well received by consumers, with one out of five people hating the ads, Greg Creed, CEO of KFC parent company Yum! Brands (YUM) acknowledged in May. There's a lot more than chicken feed at risk, given that KFC has lost traction with consumers and has been surpassed by Chick-fil-A as the biggest U.S. chicken chain in sales.

Bringing back the Colonel after a 21-year absence was one way KFC sought to get consumers interested in its food. Sanders' well-known saying -- "It's finger-lickin' good" -- was also revived. But playing around with a folksy icon like the Colonel has its dangers. For one, some consumers thought Hammond's portrayal was distasteful, with former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown (who sold the company to Sanders in 1971) telling USA Today that the ads seemed to be "making fun of the Colonel."

Those consumers who disliked Hammond's portrayal might not amused by Macdonald's take on the businessman. In the new set of ads, Macdonald proclaims that he is the "real Colonel Sanders," and that the previous fellow was an impostor.

Macdonald's ads "are more of that same homage to the things that made Kentucky Fried Chicken such an important part of American families," KFC chief marketing officer Kevin Hochman said in a statement. He added, "Other than not quite looking like him, his voice being different and his inability to cook the world's best chicken, we thought Norm was the perfect choice to play the Real Colonel."

Alienating some consumers might be a risk that KFC's management is willing to take. After all, Creed told Food Business News that the mixed results to Hammond's portrayal was "better than 100 percent being indifferent."