Colonel Sanders, who lives on in the Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) brand, has been showing up in some of the most unusual places. Not only has he been featured in the pages of DC Comics, but he has appeared in “Tender Wings of Desire,” a Mother’s Day romance novel, a WWE activation called “Sandoslam” and numerous commercials featuring comedians such as Billy Zane, Rob Lowe, Jim Gaffigan, Rob Riggle and Norm Macdonald.
Now the Colonel is coming to virtual reality in a training experience called The Hard Way.
Inspired by the Colonel quote, “A real meal is a meal made the hard way,” the VR experience combines an abbreviated training program with a lighthearted escape room theme, all tied together using the humorous voice of the Colonel, which guides you through the five-step process of making their original recipe chicken by hand.
Press and KFC fans were invited to try out the 10-minute experience at a debut event in New York City on Wednesday. There, they had to don aprons, hairnets and plastic gloves before putting on Oculus Rift headsets.
The experience locks you in a virtual room while the voice of the Colonel guides players through the process of making fried chicken by hand. Equipment and ingredients come popping in through hidden panels and the task is accompanied by humorous moments and Easter eggs for those who follow KFC’s history.
For example, laser beams fire from the Colonel’s portrait to vaporize dropped chicken pieces, and as a robotic assistant appears, the Colonel remarks about how silly it would be for robots to make chicken—a nod to how human cooks make the food, despite how select KFC drive-thrus were once outfitted with a robotic Colonel Sanders that repeated everything the drive-thru operator said with the Colonel’s Southern accent. It then concludes in a home kitchen, where an old KFC commercial featuring the Colonel plays on a CRT television.
Although The Hard Way could easily work as a sponsored VR game to promote the restaurant brand, KFC intends to use it to supplement its training program.
“The thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that we have cooks in every single one of our KFCs that are hand-preparing chicken every day,” George Felix, director of advertising for KFC US, told AListDaily at the showcase event. “There’s a robust training called Chicken Master Certification that they all go through, and that’s a process that we take a lot of pride in because it’s different from a lot of quick serve restaurants. VR gives you an immersive platform where you can start to understand that process, interact with it, and [it can] bring a sense of pride to our team members while supplementing our training in an interesting way.”
Felix said that the Colonel believed in unrelenting quality control and that there was never room for shortcuts. The process itself hasn’t changed that much since it was created 70 years ago, and the VR experience takes users through the core five steps of inspecting the chicken, rinsing it, breading it by hand, racking it and then pressure frying it for that signature KFC taste.
And who better than the Colonel to teach someone how to make fried chicken the right way?
“Honestly, the best way to teach someone how to make the original recipe would be from the Colonel himself,” said Felix. “So, through the magic of technology, we found what we think is a fun way to bring the Colonel into the process to start instilling those values. The impetus was that everything we do has the Colonel at the core of it, so we wanted to bring him into this process using VR.”
However, the voice of the Colonel is not performed by any of the celebrity actors that have portrayed him in past commercials.
“As you know, we’ve had a number of different celebrities that have played the role of Colonel Sanders over the last couple of years in our advertising, and we plan on continuing that,” said Felix. “Whereas The Hard Way VR training simulation is something we anticipate being around for a long period of time. So, we didn’t want to be tied to one particular Colonel in a moment in time—rather, we wanted to have a timeless Colonel voice.”
As for whether The Hard Way will ever become commercially available, Felix said, “It’s currently focused on trainees and internal use. As far as the future goes, we may look at a broader consumer release. But in the short term, we’re looking for this to be a training tool for our team members.”
To that end, KFC will be looking for ways to integrate the VR experience into existing training platforms. Felix said that general managers come to the KFC headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky on a quarterly basis and franchisees periodically have meetings around the country, so that’s where KFC will start looking for opportunities to bring VR into the training curriculum.
This is KFC’s first venture into VR, and even though its purpose is for training, there’s no telling where it might lead. It might attract new talent to come work at the restaurants. Furthermore, once word of the VR training simulator gets out, it could bring new customers to its restaurants.
“I think that not only showing a 70-year-old brand, but a brand that’s relevant in 2017, is something we’re always striving for. Whether it’s bringing in new customers or attracting high caliber team members who want to work at KFC, we want to be a brand that resonates with younger people today.”
Felix also explained how a technology like VR fit with a 70-year-old brand that came into existence long before computers were even an idea.
“I think that because we’re a 70-year-old brand, we have to find ways to continue making our brand relevant to a new generation of people who didn’t necessarily grow up with it,” Felix explained. “So, we’re always looking at ways to modernize the brand and bring the Colonel in using new and interesting ways. Whether it’s integrating the Colonel into DC Comics or bringing him into a VR experience, we feel that that’s exactly what he would have done if he were around in 2017.”
Felix then mused about whether the VR experience opened an opportunity for the Colonel to appear in a video game.
“You’ll have to stay tuned,” said Felix. “I think anything is possible and we’re always looking for ways to bring the Colonel to new and unexpected places.”