When Native Advertising Gets Weird: Kentucky Fried Comics
Superheroes work out six hours a day, eat steak and steamed vegetables religiously, and on occasion, take steroids. They don’t, under any circumstances, eat fast food. You can’t become Thor by devouring Original Recipe buckets.
However, these hard truths didn’t stop Kentucky Fried Chicken from sponsoring a new 20-page DC comic book titled The Colonel of Two Worlds. Kotaku called the piece of native advertising “one of the weirdest things you’ll read all week,” which is putting it mildly. The story pits Colonel Sanders, our hero, against his evil twin, Colonel Sunder, who runs a knockoff chicken franchise, wears a black suit, and says things like, “Y’all gettin’ tired of feelin’ like the world’s done plucked you over?” Sunder hires some villains to rob a bank and take over the world until a fed-up Colonel Sanders teams with the Flash and Green Lantern to stop them and restore “honor” to the world of fried chicken.
The art looks great, but the whole project deserves a smugshrug1 because it just looks like a waste of money. Setting the story in the DC universe had the potential to be a cool creative choice, but since the actual superheroes are in awe of the Colonel, it just comes off as tone deaf. It’s a perfect example of the common mistake marketers make: trying to shoehorn their brand into a story format, regardless of the fit.
We get it. Every month there’s a new superhero movie. Comic books are culturally relevant. But as tempting as it may be to jump on that trend, a comic book about Colonel Sanders making chicken the old-fashioned way isn’t cool; it’s just self-serving.
This isn’t the first time a brand has tried to co-opt the medium. Other branded comics have been published over the years with varying degrees of success. About a year ago on The Content Strategist, Mason Lerner rounded up the five worst content marketing comic books, which included some duds from the NFL, TYCO, and Atari. Around the same time, the Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC) sponsored a comic from Marvel featuring Captain Citrus, a healthy superhero who fights against grape-purple humanoids.
These all tend to be corny, but the differentiating factor is the audience. The FDOC distributed a million copies of the Captain Citrus comic in classrooms all over the U.S., giving kids a creative outlet to learn more about nutrition. However, when you’re dealing with adults, or people who eat fried chicken while engaging in recreational activities that are only legal in certain states, the corny dialogue and superhero cliches just don’t have as much bite.Image by DC Comics