21 November 2006

I'll take a bucket of humanity to go with that new image, thanks

There have two new announcements this past week in the news that really have me seeing red. In both cases, a great opportunity to acknowledge (and God forbid, actually help) the hungry and poor in this country has been passed up in some promotional zeal to be 'image-conscious'. It's troubling to me and also very disappointing. Why it's more important for a worldwide company and the US government to keep spending money changing 'perception' instead of doing public outreach that would forever solidify respect with their customers...I don't think I will ever fully understand.

The first of these two, on the surface, seems harmless enough. The much-frequented institution of Kentucky Fried Chicken® has just started an updating of its image worldwide. And not only is the chain of fast-food restaurants having the redo (with a new one opening about every day now in China!...between them and Wal-Mart®, can't wait to see what the Chinese feel about us in 10 years or so), but also their beloved icon and late founder, Colonel Saunders, is getting an image facelift as well. To celebrate the Colonel's new look, KFC® decided to relaunch his image in such a way that everybody would take note...if everybody was in space or perhaps used Google Earth repeatedly over the Nevada desert. (I, for one, only use Google Earth over places that have actual landmarks I'd like to see, although admittedly the Sydney maps need some desperate cleaning up. But that's probably just a quirk of mine.) They decided to make the newly improved Colonel's image the "Face from Space". (I could not make this stuff up if I tried.)

From atretailmedia.com:
KFC Creates First Brand Visible From Space

Louisville, K.Y.-based KFC Corp., a division of YUM! Brands Inc., became the world's first brand visible from outer space by unveiling a record-breaking 87,500-sq.-ft., updated Colonel Sanders logo in the Area 51 desert. The event marks the official debut of a massive global re-image campaign that will contemporize 14,000-plus KFC restaurants in more than 80 countries over the next few years. KFC's new fresh look updates the brand icon and spans all visual elements from logo to restaurant design, advertising, packaging, uniforms and more.

The new logo depicts Colonel Sanders with his signature string tie, but for the first time, replaces his classic white, double-breasted suit with a red apron. The apron aims to symbolize the home-style culinary heritage of the brand. The massive logo, which was referred to as the "Face from Space" by the project team, took more than 3,000 hours [ed: 24 days] to create from inception to launch and was built by Synergy. The logo consists of 65,000 1-ft.-by-1-ft. painted tile pieces that were assembled like a giant jigsaw puzzle--6,000 red; 14,000 white; 12,000 eggshell; 5,000 beige and 28,000 black. A state-of-the-art GEO satellite captured the image of the logo as it circled the Earth at an altitude of 423 miles.

This is only the fourth time in more than 50 years that the logo has changed.

To see an image of the logo go to www.kfc.com.

Honest to God, folks, I see nothing wrong with rebranding an image and have no problems with advertising. I consider myself a capitalist...a progressive capitalist, maybe, but capitalist still the same. I have nothing wrong with KFC® nor with any of their menu (except the gravy, they should rework that awful brown gravy mix). But here's a thought that would have been (a) a big boon to their business, (b) a great PR moment showcasing goodwill, and (c) a damn sure better use of their money: give some food away to the hungry in each of the communities where they have a store. For all the cost of the land buying/rental, the logo design on the tiles, the workers for the tiles, the painting, the installation, the satellite photography (oh, bloody hell!), and the promotion, ad nauseum of "The Face" project...the YUM! Brands, Inc., (the corporation that operates KFC®, Pizza Hut®, Taco Bell®, Long John Silver's®, and A&W® restaurants worldwide) probably would have been able to feed a few towns. I'm not even saying YUM! would have to donate indefinitely or a certain percentage of their profits (which would both be highly commendable, but I'm sure won't happen...I am a realist on some things). But even if they had donated food to equal just the number of days it took the whole "Face from Space" extravaganza from development to unveiling, who knows how many people they could have helped. I'm much more inclined to support a company that, although a part of a large international corporation, doesn't forget the local communities and customers that make that business successful...and not support a company that has lost touch with the very 'working class people' base their founder once so heavily recruited. A good number of those 'working class people' are having it tough.

While the costs vary depending on what part of the world you're in, locally here in North Carolina it costs just $1.79 USD to feed one person a meal. I'm not even sure you can get a 99¢ sandwich and a soda for less than that in KFC® or any of its sister restaurants anymore. In places like Latin America and Africa, it's far less cost a day, but the demand is far greater. Even the new 'wild East' of consumerism, China, is rife with needy and hungry people. Forgive me, sci-fi fans, Trekkies, Scientologists, and other intergalatic-leaning readers for what I am about to say: I don't care about the hungry Martians or Plutonians (now that Pluto's lost 'planet citizenship', I know I'd be paying a visit here to have some words with those who made that decision). I care instead about all the hungry and starving people we already have here. It's just a damn shame that the "Face" was mindlessly sent to space, when it could have been gracing delivery trucks of food to some very deserving food kitchens.

Conversely, but along those same lines of 'they did what again?' question, the US government (at Lord only knows at what expense) this past week has declared there are no more hungry Americans. But, before you start thinking that Dubya and Co. have finally solved one increasing problem during their tenure...let go of that positive fantasy. Instead, as only my federal government can do, they've decided that 'hungry' and/or 'hunger' is simply not the correct terminology anymore. Instead, people with little or no food just have 'very low food security'. Oh, now that has a much more positive spin on things. With no disrespect to my fellow former British Empire cousins, I feel an uncommon urge now to have crumpets and tea, and make sure my ever-so-stylish millinery hat is on properly.

Where I come from, to say someone has low 'security' about something implies they don't have the intestinal fortitude or inner courage on some front to stand on their own in some fashion...and they are generally thought of as lesser people because of it. Much like the comic strip character Linus® in the Charlie Brown® series is about giving up his baby blanket, the whole lack of security image promotes neediness, clinginess even, in an avoidance to 'grow up'. Perhaps right, perhaps wrong, but the unspoken implication with the word 'insecurity' (which is what the 'very low' is saying, in truth) is that it's something that can be changed if one just puts their mind to the goal somehow. You're insecure about your career path? Go train for another in a different field if need be. You're insecure about your love life? Have a sit-down with your lover or go find a counselor to help. But here's the rub, folks: the hungry, the homeless, the uninsured and truly financially needy in this country...most of them are trying and don't want to be in their current state of affairs, but can't get ahead enough to break the cycle. It's not lack of initiative on their part (although I grant there will always be several to abuse the program), but a breakdown of the system we pay tax dollars to fund and support. If you follow Lou Dobbs' discussion about the "War on the Middle Class" over on CNN, you'll also acknowledge that the gap of those who will have 'low food security' is only growing, not lessening. While I'd like to say I'm stunned, I'm not. I am profoundly disappointed, though. And I have to wonder how many meals could have been provided if we'd spent the money for this 'change' on hunger, instead of coming up with a symantic 'feel-good' option to not even say the word. Guilt is a very strong motivator, but not strong enough, apparently.

What next? The umpteen million Americans who don't have (or perhaps don't even want, let alone afford) a home of their own suffers 'very low home ownership security'? We don't have 'poor' people anymore, folks...we just have ones with 'very low income security'. We don't have an out of control illegal alien situation in this country, we instead have visitors with a 'very low security of American rights and law protections'. It just sounds so posh now, doesn't it? Why didn't we think of this before?? Oh yeah, right, we have...it was called whitewashing and it didn't work to solve our problems then, either.

I wonder what would happen if the Colonel® did lure in some visitors from outer space. And while I could care less if they would buy the crispy or the original versions of the chicken, I do wonder what they would think if they happened across the hungry person looking through the restaurant's dumpsters for food. Would they see the same economic breakdown that I do?? Would they wonder how this could happen, and continues to happen at an alarming rate here, like I do?? Or would they instead contemplate how we, as a race of people, could focus on global advertising yet simulataneously not make some food available to those with 'very low food security'?? Or would they, like me, wonder how many people could not even afford to eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken® these days...no matter where they saw the ad.

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