TECHNOLOGY

KFC Has an All-New, Outrageously Weird Mobile Phone (and It’s Going to Sell a Lot Better Than Facebook’s)

The company is perfectly navigating a cross between a brand extension and promotion.

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BY Erik Sherman - 13 Jul 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

KFC is no stranger to unusual promotions. The chain sent a chicken burger into orbit to pull down a lot of attention. The chicken corsage campaign was funny and effective.

Now there's something new, and at the surface far less of a win: a KFC-branded smartphone in China, launched in honor of its 30th anniversary in the country, just announced by the company. That may sound a bit crazy. Anyone remember the Facebook smartphone that immediately flopped?

But, oddly enough, KFC may be better positioned to take on this type of high tech deal than the king of social media companies. (Maybe Mark Zuckerberg should have dressed in a white suit as KFC like the Colonel Sanders figure rather than a hoodie and t-shirt.) Here's a video put out by KFC and its hardware partner, Huawei.

Brand extensions are tricky. You can go wildly off target, lose focus, and make customers wonder what you're up to. But KFC has built a relationship with technology use in China, including a self-order kiosk concept introduced last year and the pilot program using AI-powered robots that took orders with voice recognition, according to the site Campaign Asia. KFC has a popular mobile app and has leaned heavily on electronic payments. More than 30% of its sales in China use mobile payments.

The phone has a red case -- the color is considered good luck. On the back is the KFC logo and an image of Colonel Sanders. The phone comes in at a little over $161, comes reasonably well outfitted with decent features, and comes loaded with the KFC app and a second app, called K-Music, which lets you select songs you'll hear on the speakers of whichever KFC restaurant you visit there. And there are also virtual credits for the KFC app.

Yum China, the company that operates the KFC brand and some others in the country, has seen unexpectedly poor financial performance (in its most recent quarter, the Pizza Hut division was blamed for the shortfall) so far this year. It needs something to stir the pot.

Because there already is an established tie-in with technology and the anniversary year as an excuse, the move will get plenty of attention, whether people queue up as if they were going to get a highly anticipated iPhone.