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KFC's latest ads to support the new Georgia Gold Honey Mustard BBQ chicken features actor Billy Zane. Courtesy of KFC

This ‘Titanic’ Actor Is the New KFC Colonel

Jan 25, 2017

KFC has tapped Billy Zane as the brand's latest pitchman, naming the "Titantic" actor to the new role of "Georgia Gold Colonel."

The fast-food restaurant chain says Zane, who most recently appeared in ABC's "Guilt," will appear in 30-second TV ads and a digital marketing campaign that is being used to highlight the company's latest limited time offer, Georgia Gold Honey Mustard BBQ chicken. The limited-time addition to KFC's menu is expected to be available through April.

"Success isn't earned—it's eaten," says Zane in the spot. "And nothing says success like gold." He adds that the newest chicken from KFC is "finger-licking gold."

The spot is a sequel of sorts to a campaign that KFC launched last year around the company's crispy chicken recipes. That campaign featured actor George Hamilton, who was tanned in a way that made him appear extra crispy. Zane's golden hue matches the name of the line of chicken meals he'll be promoting. Other past KFC celebrity colonels have included actors Norm Macdonald, Darrell Hammond and Mad Men's Vincent Kartheiser.

"Billy Zane's role is playful," said Jason Marker, president of KFC in the U.S., in an interview with Fortune. He said that KFC often aims to work with actors that can appear in ads that play to their strengths. In Zane's case, the ad spot was meant to focus on his work as a character actor. Zane is the seventh actor to play the role.

The spot from KFC comes at a time of strength for the brand, which is owned by Yum Brands (yum), also parent to Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. In the U.S., KFC has posted same-store sales growth for nine consecutive quarters, steady results consider the broader weakness restaurants have experienced as grocery stores have lowered prices to be more competitive and traffic trends gravitate toward fast-casual rivals. "The brand’s continued strength in a sluggish QSR [quick service restaurant] market is commendable," said Yum Brands CEO Greg Creed in October. "This achievement in the U.S. gives me confidence in continued global success, as we share best practices across the system."

Marker said some of the success can be attributed to the brand's recent interest in innovating around regional, bolder flavors. It found inspiration in Nashville for a hotter chicken and looked to Georgia for this honey mustard variation.

KFC's new Georgia Gold Honey Mustard BBQ Chicken.KFC's new Georgia Gold Honey Mustard BBQ Chicken. Courtesy of KFC 

"Our goal is to continue to do these regional flavors and we want to do one of these each year," Marker said. "The flavor profile is a little unexpected and unfamiliar." He added that consumers, in particular millennials, are looking for flavor experimentation. But from quick-service restaurants, they want "safe exploration"—that implies KFC will only push innovation so far.

Still, the experimentation is part of a bigger overhaul at KFC that also includes a plan to remodel 3,000 restaurants over the next few years (the company operates 4,200 in the U.S.). All of that work is paying off: Marker says "brand consideration"—that's the metric that determines if a consumer would consider dining at a certain brand—has increased 45% in the core millennial age group in the last two years. That doesn't also result in a purchase, but it is an important barometer about the health of a restaurant concept.

Individual Georgia Gold and Nashville Hot basket meals will be available for $5.49 and include three tenders or two pieces of chicken, as well as an individual cole slaw and a biscuit. Big baskets with more generous portions will be priced at $9.99.

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