Ever since KFC launched its “Unthink” campaign, I’ve wondered what effects it may have on the company and its franchisees – for better or for worse.  If you’re not already familiar, the campaign was developed to promote KFC’s grilled chicken they introduced in April 2009, rather than the original fried chicken the company is so well-known for.  It’s now been almost a year and a half since the company added its “unfried side” to the menu and it turns out that overall sales are down and many franchisees are frustrated with the new company strategy.

Of course, it’s easy to say in hindsight that this campaign wouldn’t work as well as planned (and, to be fair, other factors play in to declining sales – not just the new strategy), but it’s possible the company strayed from its core business too much by encouraging its customers to “Unthink KFC.”  This story reminds me of Oldsmobile’s “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile” campaign, where the company attempted to reinvent itself in the late 1980s.  Oldsmobile decided to rebrand itself as a new generation of car but in the process neglected its historic brand and its most loyal customers, which some say played a large part in the regression of the company.  KFC is now at a similar crossroad with the decision to either promote newer, healthier options to reach a new market or promote its tried-and-true fried products to maintain its core group of consumers.

Several franchisees have already expressed concern about how the marketing strategy may confuse customers and hurt the brand (KGC, anyone?).  A recent Businessweek article states how the company now faces lawsuits from these disgruntled franchisees who state that KFC unwisely turned its back on its Southern fried heritage, resulting in lower sales and therefore less income for store owners.

The KFC and Oldsmobile case studies not only serve as good examples of how important branding can be, but also how important research can be.  I’m curious as to what types of market research KFC conducted before its “Unthink” campaign was launched, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how the company moves forward with its marketing strategy from here on.

What do you think?  Is KFC going down the right path by offering healthier options to attract new customers over time, or should it stick more to its brand and focus on its traditional consumer base?