What’s the Core Believable Passion? Arby’s and KFC demonstrate the difference between “branding” and “advertising.”

Arby’s holds meat, KFC buckets meat

Arby’s has reinvigorated their brand, using the medium of television advertising.

KFC is running television advertising because if they don’t, sales drop—and as long as they’re running ads, they might as well try something that appears to be retro-hip and fundamental to who they are.

That’s a fun, fascinatingly odd ad for the Colonel, isn’t it?

The difference between the campaigns is, Arby’s is clearly stating a reason for their company to exist, and why you might be interested in trading money for food. On the other hand, KFC is clearly stating nothing more than that they used to have an iconic but somewhat goofy old spokesman who happened to be the founder—but are providing no basic, believable reason for us to change our behavior.

Arby’s has figured out how to change people’s behavior. Same-store sales are up 7.6% in the second quarter.

People who would have driven past Arby’s without even noticing it are now giving it a chance.

By focusing on the meat, Arby’s creates a believable passion for themselves. The high quality of the writing, relevant humor, food photography, voice acting and overall production of the advertising seems to reflect a dedication to executing well.

Arby’s holds meat, KFC buckets meat

By focusing on how goofy the Colonel would be if resurrected today as an anachronism, but having him do little more than deliver expected hype about the product, KFC creates a mildly entertaining ad whose humor seems unrelated to the actual quality of the product. All the KFC production expenses come off as table-stakes: if you’re going to run television ads for a major company, of course they’re going to look professional. Unlike Arby’s, the KFC food photography is basic but unmemorable, and the only reason to engage with the campaign is if you think Darrell Hammond is funny.

In my book Selling Eating, I wrote about how Jack in the Box pulled a similar stunt in the mid-90s, finding their core believable passion and changing people’s minds, getting second chances—and a failing, faded, unappetizing brand became relevant again. I think the same trick was pulled with Steak ’n Shake throughout the 90s, too, as the brand was rescued from steady decline and overdependence on useless nostalgia. Lovely to see Arby’s pulling off the same thing.