Well, I waited for the past several weeks before weighing in on a most weighty concern with tongue firmly making contact with my inner cheek, KFC’s resurrection of Colonel Harland Sanders for its TV ad campaign.
I suppose it was inevitable in this everything-old-is-new-again pop-culture world that it would happen, given the number of times Hollywood has gone back to the retro well with movies that have spun off TV shows from long ago, as in this past summer’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and a fourth installment of “Mission Impossible” and the way the fashion industry retrieves looks from by-gone eras when the latest haberdashery statement just may be the same type of hat once worn regularly by Old Blue Eyes, Francis Albert, himself.
And so it is in the past few months that the TV screen images of The Colonel appeared with the role played first by “Saturday Night Live” alum Darrell Hammond and then by his comedic colleague who also was a cast member, Norm Macdonald, some 35 years after the original Colonel passed into the next realm, I’m guessing, while clutching the original piece of paper with the recipe of those 12 “if-I-told-you-I’d-have-to-kill-you” secret spices.
Now, this whole business about bringing back old ad campaigns is hardly new. In recent years blue-chip brand names such as Coca-Cola, General Mills and McDonald’s have tapped into the nostalgia vein to try to sell their products.
Many who analyze marketing trends and the roads that all those Don Drapers travel feel in times of anxiety, which I’m sure they would tell you are always here, people feel more comfortable looking back to those warm and fuzzy yesteryears when it was always a paper bag that held your grocery items. It was the same bag that later was filled with popcorn before loading the kids in the car and heading off to our area’s first drive-in, which began projecting images onto a large screen in 1942, the Lima Drive-In, on the corner of Breese and Dixie.
While, as you know if you allow me into your noggin each week, those nostalgic roads are ones I often take myself. However, I must admit I’m really not ready to hop aboard when it comes to KFC’s new versions of an iconic figure.
It’s not that I have any objections to either comedian who have recently donned the white suit and string tie. As a long-time devotee of the show that introduced their comedic talents to the world, I well remember both of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players.
Hammond actually holds several distinctions in “SNL’s” history. When he left the show seven years ago, he was the oldest cast member, at 53, since the show’s inception. Additionally, he was the show’s longest-tenured cast member and, following last year’s death of long-time show announcer Don Pardo, Hammond became the new announcer.
As for Macdonald, five years an SNL regular, including three in the coveted “Weekend Update” male chair made famous by Chevy Chase, he took over his white-suited Kentucky Colonel role in mid-summer despite his being a native Canadian.
I think my main objection is this. I have trouble with anyone, be it in a movie or a commercial, who tries to impersonate an icon. Just as I thought William Bendix’s and John Goodman’s portrayals of Babe Ruth were, at best, cartoonish in their 1948 and 1992 movies, I just think both Hammond’s and Macdonald’s attempts fall far short when it comes to the Babe Ruth of drumsticks and thighs.
Holder of many jobs as a young man — from steam engine stoker to insurance salesman to gas station operator — Sanders began selling his chicken from a restaurant just off a Corbin, Kentucky, highway during the Great Depression. Realizing the potential of franchising, over decades, Sanders became a millionaire before finally selling the company in 1964 to a group led by Jack Massey and John Y. Brown. Even after the sale, the Colonel remained a good-will ambassador and commercial spokesman and continued to fill his coffers as the brand grew worldwide.
Of course Brown, owes much to Sanders for the enormous fowl-generating profits he realized. As a native Lexington, Kentuckian, Brown thinks little of the new Colonels and feels the original wouldn’t have taken kindly to the caricature of himself. Brown has told pretty much anyone who cares to listen, “I don’t think you make a gimmick out of somebody. It [the Colonel’s story] is fascinating. I hate to see them tarnish it.”
Let’s see, Hammond’s Sanders began running in May and Macdonald’s version I first noticed in August. That’s a fake Colonel about every three months. I suppose, as has been said, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then that just might mean the King of the Drumstick is floating around somewhere out there on a cloud, clutching the sides of that white billowy conveyance with a firm finger-licking grip, and smiling down.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.