Some marketing is in your face. And sometimes, it's a subtlety waiting for discovery and the wave of earned media that will follow. KFC, part of Yum! Brands, has proved itself more than capable of both with a -- sorry, can't help myself -- brand-new insight into its Twitter account that came from a user of the social network.

The more obvious promotions have been noteworthy over the last few years. For example, there was the KFC-branded smartphone in China, with a decent feature set and a couple of company apps, including one that lets users select music to play at any KFC restaurant they visit there. Sending a chicken sandwich into the stratosphere tethered to a balloon for four days with a live 4K video feed was out of the ordinary. And there was the KFC chicken corsage campaign.

KFC depends on humor and whimsy in its marketing. But, of late, it's also looked back to reestablish links with its founding by Harlan Sanders, long before he sold his interest in the business. Actor Rob Lowe currently plays the Sanders character, for example.

Part of the continuity with the past is the basis for the Twitter joke. As a user noticed, the KFC Twitter account follows 11 people. Five of them are former members of the Spice Girls. The other six include a famous musician, a Santa Clara University head coach, a member of the Green Bay Packers, a Los Angeles City Council president, a journalist, and a martial artist.

All of the latter share one thing: the given name of Herb.

KFC follows 11 herbs and spices.

Genius is a word that gets kicked around a lot, but this is a bit of marketing genius. Subtle, waiting for the day when someone would notice, mention it, with all the press that would follow. The humor is completely in keeping with the overall tone of KFC campaigns and the company couldn't invoke its history any better than with a reference to 11 herbs and spices.

What's even more remarkable about KFC's marketing is that such efforts can so easily go careening off the rails. There's the temptation to get too clever or to release an excess of promotions in rapid succession that become predictable. There's just enough time between them now for people to forget about the last one and enjoy the current.

How long can they keep it up? Hard to say. In my experience, you can keep something rolling for a few years and then you get a change in management, with the new people deciding to put their mark on the operations. Given how rare great marketing is, the result is usually terrible.

But for now, KFC's marketing team can continue to be innovative, smart, and effective. As another person else said on Twitter, someone deserves a raise.

Published on: Oct 20, 2017
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