Chicken Nuggets with Cleavage and other Bad Ideas

Spokespeople for food brands have been getting a lot of press recently. The launch of the new McDonald’s Hamburglar and double reboot of the KFC Colonel have met with mixed reviews, including descriptors like odd, charming, creepylame, amusing, and sinister.




There are lots of reasons to reboot an old mascot for a quick-service brand. Say you find yourself in the position where you:

1. have little (or nothing) new to say,

2. have products that are known to be unhealthy and need to appear more wholesome,

3. can tap into some sweet nostalgia (i.e. Remind me of the good ol’ days in the caboose at “Donald House” – which is how I referred to McDonald’s until I was 6).

4. are uncool. People don’t like to admit that they frequent these places. In fact, while KFC and McDonald’s are among the most visited quick-service restaurants, they are among the least likely to be recommended to friends.

But, the ‘who-did-it-best-Colonel-VS-Hamburglar’ horse has been thoroughly beaten at this point (my vote goes to the Colonel, especially with the gutsy move to re-reboot him with different actors or “imposters”). Instead of rehashing that, let’s look at something that’s great for brands when done well – but gruesome when done poorly.

I’m talking about anthropomorphized food being used to sell itself.If you’re looking for something smart-sounding to use at a dinner party: Anthropomorphize means “to attribute human form or personality to”.

A recent example of anthropomorphization is the newish KFC chicken nugget mascot from Japan. Look at those full lips, sassy wink, crossbone barrette, and cleavage. It’s a wonder anyone can resist her seductive, nuggety goodness. (Note: I recognize that social and marketing norms in Asia are very different from those in North America, so I’ll lay off the nugget, other than to say that it, in the age of the internet, was not well-received in the West).


Suffice it to say that the visceral reaction to the sumptuous, sexualized nugget got me thinking: When does this device work? What variables make it unappetizing?

The Nugget Wasn’t the First and Won’t Be the Last…

Advertising, at its core, is used to make products and services appealing to consumers. Spokespeople and demonstrations are simple (and respectable) ways to describe product features and make them palatable.

Spokesanimals have been around since the early days of mass advertising. Sometimes in the form of horrifying (if eye-catching) spectacles of self-mutilation.

Clare's blog post - animalsOf these two examples, one’s a dated ad (so you could forgive the lack of nuance) but the other was in market as recently as 2014. I suppose Famous Dave’s hope was that you don’t think too hard about what you’re witnessing and just say to yourself: “mmmm… those ribs look savoury!”. So, you have to ask yourself (and Dave): “Why put the pig in the logo at all?” (Note: Their digital media no longer features the pig.)

Spokesfood Done Right

When done well, spokesfood have strutted their stuff for some of the most iconic brands of the last century.  These characters all live their own wee humanoid lives and are proud of their heritage.

1916: Planter’s Mr. Peanut

1944: Chiquita Banana

1954: Kool-Aid Man

1961: Charlie the StarKist Tuna

1965: Pillsbury Doughboy

1986: The California Raisins

1995: M&Ms

1990s: Mr. Mini Wheat

2004: Chips Ahoy Cookie Guy

Being a bit edgy can work for some brands when done carefully. The Chick-Fil-A ads (often in billboard form) have cows encouraging the consumption of chickens. It’s a bit sadistic, but it’s not straight-up misinformation.cows

There’s a Time and Place for Using a Spokesfood

Consumers can handle when candy (M&Ms) or fruits and nuts (California Raisins, Mr. Peanut, Chiquita Banana) are dancing and singing. Meat-based products can be made to be cute – even if they like to dunk themselves in bbq sauce. But from there it just starts getting weird. Why would you ever plant the macabre thought of the death and dismemberment of an animal in your advertising?

We’ve built this handy-dandy reference guide for when spokesfood works and when it doesn’t.

Should I have a mascot or a spokesfood?


In short

The more processed a food is, the more appetite (pun intended) there is to playfully express an unwillingness to be eaten.

When the product becomes totally processed (i.e. if it’s not food), you may as well just get a cute mascot (that isn’t a humanoid version of your product) that can tell consumers something about your brand (Ex. The Geico gecko, an Aflac duck, the Energizer bunny). The same goes for your food brand if you’re just not sure if your product should be anthropomorphized.   Dust off an old spokesperson and reboot it (…and we’re back to the Colonel and the Hamburglar).

Packaging as a mascot is pretty bad, generally. Unless you’re Kool-Aid, consider other devices.

Why It Feels Wrong

The real problem with brands using an animal to gleefully suggest you consume them is that it’s dishonest. Most people don’t like to imagine themselves killing and butchering an animal.  We have compassion– and there’s more and more demand for ethical treatment of the animals we eat.  Even though the average consumer doesn’t sit around and think about it much, we know it’s beyond misleading to say that a pig wants to cut itself open and flame-broil itself.   That’s why it seems so perverse.

Being “authentic” is among the most important brand features for millenials. Using a device to misinform a consumer is just not going to cut it.


Do – Have a spokesfood, spokesperson, or mascot.   They can be great ambassadors for your brand.

Don’t – show them cooking and/or eating themselves or their kind.

Simple right?

Bon Appetite.

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