What KFC's Goofy VR Escape Room Taught Me About the Power of Storytelling in Communication
So far this year, KFC’s marketing campaigns have included publishing a romance novella starring Colonel Sanders, called Tender Wings of Desire, and launching a chicken sandwich into space in a high-altitude balloon.
It got weirder yesterday with a special media event that featured a VR escape room -- a nightmarish secret lair with robotic arms dangling from the ceiling, a painting of the Colonel that shot laser beams from its eyes and a music box that -- for some reason -- helped me place chicken on a drying rack. So in that virtual room I stood, wearing my headset, making a batch of virtual chicken, coached all the while by the voice of Colonel Sanders himself.
Why did they do this? In part, to remind people KFC actually cooks its chicken. And while building a VR experience just to get that point across seems overly complicated, it’s backed by some pretty clever thinking. In fact, this thinking is useful to people who want to communicate better with anyone -- including their coworkers.
First off, some background: While most chains thaw and microwave, KFC cooks from scratch. Each batch of KFC original recipe chicken requires an intensive 25-minute process that involves inspecting, rinsing, breading, racking and pressure frying.
However, most people don’t realize that, says George Felix, KFC’s U.S. director of advertising. But not just any people -- KFC’s own people. Sure, this media spectacle was designed for journalists like me, but the VR experience was created for its own teams. And while VR is being used more and more in training everywhere from Walmart to Macy’s, this experience is meant to supplement KFC’s existing training programs. It’s not designed to speed up the training or cooking process. It’s meant to “instill pride” in KFC’s heritage and process, Felix said. In other words, it’s largely an internal promotional tool.
Felix says KFC wanted to create a fun and engaging way to highlight the heritage behind its chicken recipe, using gamification and immersive participation to make it more memorable than say, a presentation or video. The experience -- dubbed “The Hard Way” -- will be shown at regional general manager training classes, quarterly franchise meetings and during corporate onboardings. Felix says that the experience is KFC’s “first foray” into VR.
The VR experience goes beyond linking a legacy company with modern tech. Through fresh characterization and storytelling, the training can better connect staff with the company's founder and mascot, capabilities and decades-long history, according to Jonathan Minori, design director with Wieden + Kennedy Lodge, the agency behind the project.
“When we looked at, ‘What is the personality of the Colonel?’, we thought of Willy Wonka. That led us down this path of, if he was Willy Wonka, he would lock you in this room until you did it right,” Minori says. “We thought, let’s find a way to weave in the narrative of, ‘How would an obsessive Colonel teach people how to make his chicken in this day and age?’”
In part, the answer was by shooting laser beams from his eyes and vaporizing any piece of chicken that falls on the ground -- at least in virtual reality. (Luckily, I didn’t drop any.)