KFC Taps Into Hometown Celebrity Jack Harlow To ‘Usher In A New Era’

Food & Drink

Few artists are having as big a moment right now as Jack Harlow. The Grammy-nominated recording artist is riding momentum from his new album, “Come Home the Kids Miss You,” has landed the lead in the “White Man Can’t Jump” reboot, and is fresh off the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

He also recently embarked upon a world tour after doing the traditional “Riders Up” call at the 2022 Kentucky Derby–befitting given that he’s a Louisville, Kentucky, native.

Also befitting is his collaboration with Louisville-based KFC. The chain first announced its partnership with Harlow in December and, after his visit to KFC’s Louisville headquarters in March, promoted a lineup of his favorite menu items–a spicy chicken sandwich, Secret Recipe Fries, extra crispy tenders, a side of mac & cheese and KFC biscuits–available on the KFC app and KFC.com.

Now the partnership has gone a step further to include a Jack Harlow Meal, curated by the artist himself and available on both the chain’s digital properties and in restaurants nationwide beginning June 6. The meal includes the spicy chicken sandwich, fries, mac & cheese, a side of ranch and lemonade and is served in customized Jack Harlow + KFC packaging.

In a statement, Harlow said the meal brings together his childhood favorites from growing up in Louisville.

Celebrity tie-ins have become quite popular throughout the past couple of years, as they add some buzz without product introductions adding costs or complicating operations. They’ve also proven to be successful. McDonald’s BTS Meal last year was credited for boosting sales by 26%, for instance, while its Travis Scott “Cactus Jack” Meal led to a shortage of Quarter Pounder beef. Such success has driven several other chains to pursue celebrity collaborations, including Jack in the Box

and Burger King.

In Harlow, however, KFC gets not only a hometown narrative, which adds a bit of authenticity behind the promotion, but also a celebrity who is indeed buzzing.

“Jack has long been vocal about his passion for his home state of Kentucky, which is why this partnership is so finger lickin’ good,” KFC CMO Nick Chavez said in a statement.

Chavez was brought on board as CMO in October following the departure of Andrea Zahumensky. Shortly after, KFC replaced longtime agency with MullenLowe. And, it’s worth noting, KFC President Kevin Hochman, who initially joined the chain as its CMO, announced his departure from the company last month to head to Brinker International.

With these changes, Harlow represents a hard shift from KFC’s carousel of more old-school celebrities tapped to play Colonel Sanders in an ongoing marketing campaign started in 2016. That carousel included the likes of Norm Macdonald, Rob Lowe, Billy Zane, George Hamilton and Reba McEntire.

KFC executives have been transparent about their efforts to “age down” the brand and a company press release reiterates that Harlow will “usher in a new era” for the chain. No doubt the artist could provide such a catalyst with the help of his 1.2 million Twitter followers, 6.4 million Instagram followers and 5.3 million TikTok followers.

The partnership also provides additional momentum for two of KFC’s biggest tailwinds at the moment–its chicken sandwich, launched in early 2021, and its digital ordering channels. Both have contributed to topline growth in recent quarters, and the sandwich jumped from 1% of its sales mix in late 2020 to 9% in Q4 2021.

KFC’s partnership with Harlow lasts throughout the year, with more campaigns, activations, experiences and menu launches expected. This consistency and loyalty (and that aforementioned hometown authenticity) could be the celebrity tie-in differentiators for KFC as such promotions become more ubiquitous.

To promote the meal, Harlow will be featured in a new series of KFC commercials that include the song “Nail Tech” from his new album. KFC is also selling Jack Harlow co-branded merchandise for a limited time to those who download the brand’s app. And on June 4, an Atlanta KFC restaurant will transform into “Jack’s Meal HQ” to give fans first dibs on the Jack Harlow Meal while his new album plays from a KFC + Jack Harlow bucket speaker.

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