There have been video game tie-ins to brands before. You had platformers featuring Ronald McDonald, there was a Japan-exclusive Pepsiman game for the Playstation, and even the Burger King Kids had a tie-in here and there.
On a transmedia side of things we’ve also had The Coca Cola Happiness Factory ten years ago – a narrative told over different commercials, and that was successful for its time.
And then you fall in love with Colonel Sanders.
I have never been so emotionally moved in my life.
If you were to travel back in time and tell someone that KFC would produce a game where you dated Colonel Sanders – COLONEL SANDERS mind you – That white-haired Southern guy. They’d never believe it was real.
But here we have a KFC dating sim that launched this week on Steam – a dating sim where you have to win the affections of Colonel Sanders. This isn’t just another brand-insert game where you run and jump to a goal; this is an emotional rollercoaster of a journey.
There was definitely no better way I could spend my time.
So today I want to talk about what’s going on with branding, and why we now live in a world where you can seduce Colonel Sanders.
MARKETING 101: SEX SELLS
This isn’t new to anyone who’s ever worked in marketing – sex sells. Whether it’s a 19th Century woman on a playing card, an attractive 1920s flapper smoking a cigarette, or an attractive 80s guy with a surfboard selling you a soda, it’s a way of instinctively making a product attractive with a subconscious promise of a relationship.
Emotion was a key element in this timeless strategy, and given the amount of scantily clad models in advertising was undoubtedly successful. You’re not selling a product you’re selling a physical attraction.
That said, there are subversions on this trope.
I think my favourite line of bizarrely inappropriate sexual advertising has to be the Sega 32X. This was an add on to the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive for the Japanese and Europeans out there) and was sold with a raunchy campaign where the machines would … ‘mount’ each other.
In this case, sex appeal isn’t about physical stimulation per se, but more about a risqué brand identity. Again, this was the console with Sonic the Hedgehog.
But now we live in an age with a craving for authenticity in a world of social media. With that, our concepts of relationships, intimacy, and brands have changed. There’s still a shock value to an attractive Colonel Sanders, but there’s something more going on – something more “human.”
WHY, OH WHY, IS THIS HAPPENING?
One of the things I like to do is follow brands on Twitter. I think it’s because they do what they can to be as human as possible. Sunny D can express depression. Burger King can have an existentialist crisis. They can comfort each other – kinda weird. But there’s a sense of sincerity there, and it humanises the brand.
This is a modern anthropomorphism – applying human characteristics with fleshed-out stories to brands. You can interact with Wendy’s now on the same personal level as any other online friend.
Now we have the culmination of modern media – a KFC dating sim. You too can explore a deep-meaningful relationship with Colonel Sanders – a sexualised, attractive, Colonel Sanders who strives to perfect his fried chicken recipe.
Now this was almost certainly designed as a joke, an ‘I can’t believe it’s real’ way to get people talking about KFC. This isn’t something we wanted, but it’s also something we didn’t know we wanted.
I think there’s possibly social politics going on here as well. Traditionally, it’s been sexualised women selling products to the male demographic. So a subversion of this genre with an elderly male fast food mascot (never thought I’d type that) is surprisingly effective.
Now we have thousands of gamers reaching for the Colonel’s bucket.
I LOVE YOU COLONEL SANDERS
It’s time to address the game itself, and its complex interactive narrative.
You are a new student in a first-class culinary school with fellow classmate – Colonel Sanders. In true dating sim fashion, your goal is to romance him.
I actually wasn’t very good at it at first. On the first play I sat by my best friend over the Colonel – that was a mistake (I thought I was playing hard-to-get.) And on the second playthrough I came on too strong and got a Game Over that way.
The animé-inspired characters are pretty stock – you have a rival, a best friend, and so on. But I was never invested in them. Really, it’s only Colonel Sanders and his passion for chicken that’s of any real interest.
It is certainly an advertisement, when I finally managed to seduce the aspiring chicken chef was by answering with the most pro-KFC responses out there. At points it did feel like a KFC promotion … but then I remembered it is one big commercial.
Did I like it?
I … I think I enjoyed it. It’s so surreal I don’t know what to think.
The cooking teacher is a dog and there’s a robot in the class.
This was a marketing gamble to say the least. But it did get people talking about fried chicken, so I guess it worked.
Most importantly, as a game, it garnered a lot of reaction online. People were playing through the bizarre story, uploading their videos, it really became an event. Video games are already a hot topic on YouTube and Google, so this is a perfect way to sell your identity.
As for what could come next, I for one would like to see a gritty FPS with Mrs. Butterworth. Maybe we could have a brand-game-universe where they all crossover with each other. Then maybe another ten years down the line we get a movie about it … or maybe not.
This isn’t meant to be taken seriously. There are no great character revelations and everyone’s got a 2-Dimensional personality to go with their cardboard cutout animé style. But again, it was really an innovative way to market. After all, we should compare this to commercials and not actual dating sims.
I think there’s certainly potential in more zany marketing in the future, especially if it’s so out-there that people have to talk about it in blogs and on Twitter.
It certainly used the interactive narrative genre successfully to create a loving parody. I like to think the people working on this enjoyed it.
The game itself is only about 15 – 20 minutes long so give it a go if you haven’t already.
That said, if you’re seriously into dating sims, I’m not sure Colonel Sanders is right for you – his only love is chicken.