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How KFC is reinventing the brand as youthful in China

KFC might be the number one fast food brand in China, but it faces aggressive competition to hold onto the top spot in the crowded marketplace.

The brand is on a mission to reinvent KFC as a youth brand and is rolling out new products, innovative technologies and quirky marketing campaigns in a bid to cut through the clutter and engage China's millennials.

KFC recently launched a new product, Mojito Girl, a non-alcoholic cocktail created to appeal to Chinese millennials, specifically young women. The product and the campaign, which utilised Japanese-style imagery and storytelling techniques, was a new direction for the brand.

The Drum spoke to KFC China senior marketing director Jasmine Yang and its advertising agency McCann Worldgroup China’s chief creative officer Tian It Ng about the brand’s new marketing direction.

“KFC wanted to resonate with young consumers by launching a customised and novelty drink,” said Yang.

“KFC led the drinks market with a whole new and trendy concept - Virgin Mojito - and wanted to build a strong connection with young customers using visual symbols and expressing their happiness and strong mindsets.”

“It is the first-time KFC has talked to girls specifically and portrayed key insights of this segment in the campaign,” said Yang.

Ng added, “As with regular cocktails, each of them has its own personality. Hence, we have created this cute and chic character who exudes a little bit of playfulness and goofiness.

“KFC China strives to produce very unique work for each of their product launches. Their consistency lies in doing things differently, be it in product or communication. Prior to the Mojito Girl launch, they have never personified any of their products in such a manner, neither have they made them so gender/target specific,” said Ng.

The aim of the campaign was to create surprise in the market to ensure there was a lot of noise in social media. The launch of Mojito Girl generated huge social buzz, with the launch day attracting 120bn social mentions of the campaign, brand packaging, video and product.

Ng said, “Nobody comprehends “Buzz” better than KFC China, who has their fingers firmly on the pulse of the youthful psyche. Who on earth would have thought that a traditional fast food chain would launch a mocktail? Over recent years, they have become the master of social phenomena. Millennials in China are no different from the rest of the world, except trends come and go even faster thanks in particular to the nation’s advanced social networks.”

KFC intends to continue to create new products and innovations to appeal to China’s millennials with plans to focus on “disruptive products”, gaming, music, sports and fashion. The brand continues to roll out a number of innovations including launching facial recognition in their stores and creating a new healthy menu store.

It’s part of a strategy to reinvent the brand as “younger and buzz-worthy” in China, in a bid to stand out in the crowded market.

“KFC has pulled no punches in reinventing themselves as a youthful brand, as being young and current represents enormous market potential. With the country developing at breakneck speed, every brand strives to become relevant. That’s why certain brands that are considered dated and conventional overseas are finding a new lease of life here thanks to bold and unorthodox marketing strategies," said Ng.

“[China] is very competitive,” said Yang. “Every food and beverage segment in China that can attract the youth target will benefit from huge consumption. Particularly in the drink market, there are currently many fusion drink concepts and youth-focused beverages.”

Ng said, “There’s no single industry that’s not competitive in China as saturation for virtually all is still far off. It’s often said that this is a market for wolves and not sheep. Hence, KFC has to be constantly younger than young and hipper than hip to stay top of mind and ahead of other fast food rivals.

“It’s interesting to note, though, that their audacity has appeared to be paying off. Not only are they making the most noise with the hottest celebrity spokespersons and unorthodox advertising, they are also ringing in sales that have turned this runaway leader into a redoubtable force of dominance,” said Ng.