'Tis the Seasoning

Thanksgiving didn’t just signal the beginning of doorbuster sales and frantic trips to the mall — it ushered in the holiday ad season, and all the biggest brands are trotting out their Christmas-themed messages on television, in print and, more than ever, online.

One particular TV spot caught my eye this week: DraftFCB Chicago’s new campaign for KFC, where a slightly spaced-out family member sits on the couch between two motormouthed aunts, or two young nephews who poke him until he pays attention to their every word. The spot resolves when he hands each of the aunts a juicy piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken (chocolate chip cookies for the nephews) and the ensuing silence brings an audible sigh of relief amid the chaos.

On its face, the message is simple and straightforward: “We get it. The holidays are crazy. Wouldn’t it be great if you had an escape hatch for those stifling family get-togethers?” For KFC, the escape hatch is a drumstick — seasoned with the Colonel’s Original Recipe of 11 herbs and spices, of course.

But the long-term trend is troubling. Gone are the days of Campbell’s heartwarming campaign where the snowman comes inside, sits down to a steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup and quickly thaws to reveal a smiling kid at the table.

In other words, we’ve gone from “Come in from the cold…” to “Tired of your obnoxious family members invading your house at Christmas? Give them chicken. That’ll shut ’em up…”

While it’s a humorous campaign, and one sure to be played countless times between now and the end of December, I hope it doesn’t contribute to a dampening of the Christmas spirit in our popular culture — or a feeling among creative types and trendsetters that holiday advertising can’t be effective unless it’s sarcastic, snarky or designed to appeal to our darker impulses.

Maybe it’s the sap in me, but I like to imagine that after the KFC ad wraps up, they all head to the table for a second helping — together.

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