Actor Rob Lowe has got a new starring role: he is playing KFC's famous Colonel Sanders.
The St. Elmo's Fire and Parks and Recreation star is the eighth celebrity hired to play the brand's iconic pitchman. His appointment to that role is timed with KFC's launch of the Zinger spicy chicken sandwich. Beginning on April 23, Lowe will be featured in ads that promote the sandwich—including a planned effort to launch the Zinger into space (KFC promises more details on that endeavor later this year).
"My grandfather was the head of the Ohio chapter of the National Restaurant Association in the 1960s and took me to meet Colonel Harland Sanders when I was a kid," said Lowe in a statement to coincide with the announcement. "It was a big deal. I thought this would be a nice homage to both Colonel Sanders and to my grandfather."
In the advertisement, Lowe is depicted as an astronaut-dressed Colonel Sanders touting the launch of the Zinger sandwich. "Can you actually launch KFC's world-famous Zinger sandwich into space," Lowe rhetorically asks in the ad. "The answer is: we certainly hope so. Our entire marketing campaign depends on it."
KFC often debuts new Colonel Sanders characters to coincide with the launch of a new item that will be added to the fast-food purveyor's menu. Past performers have included actors Norm Macdonald, Darrell Hammond, and most recently, Billy Zane. When Zane took on the role earlier this year, he was helping promote the Georgia Gold Honey Mustard BBQ chicken, an item that KFC had added to menus for a limited time.
KFC, which is owned by Taco Bell and Pizza Hut owner Yum Brands (yum), has posted consistent sales growth in the U.S. at a time when restaurants have struggled to compete as traffic trends gravitate toward fast-casual rivals and as lower prices at grocery stores have put pressure on restaurants. The industry has also had to digest higher labor expenses. But KFC is performing well as consumers look to consume more proteins, a trend that plays to KFC's strengths as a chicken purveyor.
The Zinger sandwich—which is made with white meat breast filet and is fried in KFC's kitchens—will debut in the U.S. on menus starting on April 24. The sandwich costs $3.99 apiece while the combo "fill up" meal that includes potatoes, a drink and a chocolate chip cookie is priced at $5 (though prices may vary by market).