we are not dark souls

KFC has some new people in charge of marketing. Their target is millennials, and here is their latest effort.

It’s sad as hell.

I don’t mean in a sarcastic, “what a poor attempt at advertising” way. I mean it’s depressing. We watch the world end, for crying out loud. And the colonel, encased in polycarbonate, watches the whole sad sorry end, and is still waiting for cars (or chicken? or deliverance? is there a mechanic at work in NASCAR that I am missing?) that will never come.

Is this what people think we will respond to as consumers?

I figure there were two mindsets at work here. On the one hand, they looked at creepily gauche mascots like the Burger King and decided to milk some of that it’s-so-awkward-it’s-memorable cache. (Was the Burger King well-received upon his recent renaissance? I recall thinking the ads weird when they first aired, but I don’t know that they kindled in me a desire for burgers.) On the other hand, they may be trying to capitalize on data gathered by people like Truth.org, whose studies showed that millennials respond better to “truth in advertising” and the accusation that they are being manipulated somehow. Of course now that I’m trying to find the article I cannot, but at some point in the last year there was a discussion of how anti-smoking ads had a lot more effect on today’s young smokers when they said things like “Big Tobacco is putting ingredients into their cigarettes whose long-term effects we don’t even know about. They’re using you as a guinea pig. Do you want that?” There was a strong resistance to manipulation in millennials, was the point. While Truth.org, for obvious reasons, was using truth as a discouragement tactic, it may be that companies who want us to buy things or engage in certain behaviors think that they too will able to be “truthful” in their advertising by being blandly obtuse about their motives.

Look at this tweet, for example. By and large, one’s foodstuffs having enough traction to even comically serve as replacements for tires isn’t exactly an appetizing claim. But perhaps they are thinking that if their bid for your money is so obvious, you will view it as a kind of honesty lacking elsewhere in your millennial world, and thus embrace the brand, rubbery biscuits and all. “Our goal is to get you to buy more chicken. Okay, now that we fessed that up, we’re good, right? You want some chicken?” I guess there is a kind of honesty there, but when you know they’re using the honesty to sell you things–they’re even stating it outright–it feels like less of a gift, less of a being-level-with-you. It is, to a lesser degree, doing the same thing the trailer for Max (that war dog movie that advertises before Jurassic World) did, taking all those YouTube videos about dogs freaking out when their respective owners come back from deployment in fatigues. Yes those are honest feelings. But the minute you take them out of their original context, even if your aim is ostensibly to honor them, you’re using them as tools for your own ends, and as that smoking article that I wish I could now find noted, we are onto that. We sense it. And we don’t like it.

But back to that post-apocalyptic colonel. How grim do you think we are to embrace that? Okay, clearly given recent box office phenomenons (not to mention the prevailing themes of books and comics), we love to revel in the idea of the whole world just going to shit. But watching it all rot like that–what feelings do you hope to spark in us? Are we supposed to go the route of teenage smokers in the 80s, who “smoked even though they knew it was bad for them, because the cool thing to do was not caring that it was bad for them?” Since our generation has such an obsession with the end of the world, should we be expected to just eat really unhealthy food until the inevitable meteor or ecological implosion comes knocking? Is that the logic at work here?

Or do they just think we like watching things fall apart? Because goddammit marketers, we don’t. Or certainly some of us do, but not the majority. We got to see that actually happen, remember? Our newspapers told us to tape our doors and windows in case of chemical bombs. We were warned not to stick too many stamps–to only have exact stampage–on our silly girl crush letters to our friends, lest someone mistake them for anthrax attacks. We’ve already seen things fall apart. The idea that your corporate icon, too, could share this experience with us, watching over our dead planet long after we all expire, is not comforting. We are not such dark souls as to take pleasure in that.

Who do you think we are?

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