Monday, December 20, 2010

Highway Ponderings

The pilgrimage from Virginia to Wisconsin covers over 700 miles and allows plenty of time for stray observations. Gazing at billboards, it occurs to you that once again they have changed Colonel Saunder's image. With every re-imagining he becomes younger and slimmer. Perhaps if I live long enough, the Colonel will morph into a skateboarding 20 some-year-old lad that likes eating chicken.

A recent survey of Americans, ages 18-25 (the key chicken eating demographic apparently) reveals that 61% of these Americans couldn’t identify the man in the KFC logo. In fact, 31% of Americans aren’t familiar with the founder of the largest global chicken chain at all and 52% believe he is simply KFC's corporate creation, another version of Betty Crocker.

1986 Betty 1936

Betty Crocker is an image as well as a brand name and trademark of General Mills. Her name was developed in 1921 by one of the companies that would merge to become General Mills. It was thought that consumers would feel a more a personal connection to the company when they received answers to their mailed product questions signed by Betty Crocker. The name Betty was selected because it sounded cheery and All-American.

Betty's image has been updated 8 times since the first was created in 1936. These portraits were always painted, with no real person ever having posed as a model, and they have never shown the character from the shoulders down.

By comparison Harlan David Saunders was a real person. At the age of 40, Sanders cooked chicken dishes and other meals for people who stopped at his service station in Corbin, Kentucky. Since he did not have a restaurant, he served customers in his living quarters located at the service station. His local popularity grew, and Sanders moved to a motel and restaurant (seated 142 people) where he worked as the chef. Over the next nine years, he developed his "secret recipe" for frying chicken. He made use of a pressure fryer that allowed the chicken to be cooked much faster than the 30 minutes required by pan frying.

He was given the honorary title "Kentucky Colonel" in 1935 by Governor Ruby Laffoon. He was "re-commissioned" as such in 1950 by Governor Lawreence Wetherby.

It wasn't until 1950 that Sanders began developing his distinctive appearance, growing his trademark mustache and goatee and donning a white suit and string tie. He never wore anything else in public during the last 20 years of his life, using a heavy wool suit in the winter and a light cotton suit in the summer.

The route that I follow from my corner of southwestern Virginia to Wisconsin takes me through Corbin, Kentucky, not far from where the Colonel got his start before franchising the whole chicken frying concept. One of these days I do need to stop at his restaurant that is now a museum.

Fun to contemplate an image that has been changed enough times that consumers now believe he is the creation of marketers, while there were once people that thought Betty Crocker was a genuine and real person.


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