Case Study: KFC Influencer Partners With Dr. Pepper, Old Spice, TurboTax, & Casper In #SecretRecipeForSuccess Virtual Campaign


Instagram Influencer Marketing Case Study: KFC Marketing Goes Virtual With Colonel Sanders As A Spoof On Influencers


In the crowded influencer marketing space, brands are always looking for the next big idea to help lift their heads above the parapet and mark themselves out from the rest. Launching an effective campaign and building a positive consumer relationship is the principal goal of brands on social media. This can be achieved in several ways, including participation marketing, and quite often the product is of lesser importance than the all-important engagement with followers.

Brands are still trying to figure out what constitutes the best strategy for getting through to Instagram’s enormous user base. Large companies commonly attempt a variety of campaigns to garner attention—from more traditional approaches to wackier, eye-catching ideas.

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KFC marketing has often had its finger on the pulse when it comes to social media—for example, advertising on Twitch when other large brands are less aware of the platform’s massive potential. In addition, a quick glance at their Instagram will show that the KFC marketing team is not averse to trying new things when it comes to marketing the brand on to an online audience.

With 1.4 million Instagram followers, KFC is n line with other major fast food brands and gains significant brand exposure online. It’s only natural that KFC’s marketing team should seek to leverage this popularity and build their engagement, demonstrated by the nearly 700 posts on their page. By comparison, major competitor McDonald’s has over 2 million more followers but a more traditional and seemingly far less coherent strategy, posting just 50 times since 2014.

CGI Influencer Takeover Reveals New Side To The KFC Colonel

If you’re unfamiliar with CGI influencers you’ll be forgiven. Appearing since 2016 and gaining prominence thereafter, these virtual influencers (definition of an influencer)—often art projects or digital models to demonstrate fashion pieces—have gained a significant amount of popularity among fans. The most popular, Lil Miquela, boasts over 1.5 million followers; not bad for someone who doesn’t exist.

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Check it out, fried chicken fam. Not only did I turn myself into a digital, computer-generated influencer, I also got some ink. The one and only @misterctoons gave me this amazing tattoo. I feel like I am both the canvas and inspiration for this beauty. Always try to inspire like I do when I’m making amazing fried chicken. Inspiration is part of my #secretrecipeforsuccess. Stay tuned to my IG to see more from my virtual life, and I’ll also be dropping some wisdom that I call the #secretrecipeforsuccess to help you achieve your dreams. #secretrecipeforsuccess #likeminded #friedchicken #friedchickentattoo #entrepreneur #behindthecurtain #keys #respect #inspiration #positive #positivethoughts #artistatwork

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Few, however, would have expected a brand like KFC to get in on the action and spawn a CGI influencer of their own. Intended to parody the lifestyle of Instagram influencers, the New Colonel has a virtual model friend, reflects on his life while at the gym, and posts pictures of himself boarding expensive private jets. Of course, each of these is complete with brand sponsorships and nauseatingly on-the-money captions about spiritual awakenings which perfectly spoof some real-life influencers.

The campaign, complete with the tag #secretrecipeforsuccess, ran for two weeks and appears to have come to an end on April 22. Throughout its run, the KFC influencer partnered with Dr Pepper, Old Spice, TurboTax, and Casper, collectively commanding an Instagram following of 830,000 followers.

Opting to go ahead with such an oddball campaign like this shows KFC marketing is willing to test out new creative strategies with cutting edge digital marketing practices to drive their online engagement. Whether it was a success is another question, particularly regarding its popularity among the page’s followers, many of whom struggled to understand the purpose or intended parody of the virtual influencer Sanders.

Let’s take a dive in and see how KFC’s revamped Colonel performed in his inaugural campaign.


  • Drive engagement among Instagram’s predominantly Millennial audience
  • Distinguish KFC from competing brands by using non-traditional marketing
  • Test the effectiveness of new social media marketing techniques with a limited-time campaign


  • Channel: Instagram
  • Influencer: CGI influencer (virtual Colonel Sanders)


The predominant theme of the KFC influencer marketing campaign was dictated by its parody of Instagram influencers. KFC sought to replicate the voice, tone, and appearance of a real influencer. The quality of the posts are crisp but amateur, and captions often feature long-winded motivational themes, complete with the campaign hashtag #secretrecipeforsuccess.

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#ad On the eagle aka the big chicken aka my private jet. Just finished my taxes… And got a refund! Thanks to @turbotax ? Tax day is coming up, so you better get on yours too. I used TurboTax Live and so should you. Real CPAs and EAs help you with your taxes from basically anywhere. From the comfort of your couch or if you’re waiting for a private jet. Lol. They’ve got tax experts ready to answer all your tax questions. That got me and my media guy Brian thinking that we should do an AMA ‘cause I’ve got all this time on my hands now thanks to TurboTax Live. My AMA will kinda be like how TurboTax Live answered my questions about my taxes. But I can’t help you with taxes. I can just answer important questions about chicken and life. Being willing to take good advice from experts is part of the #secretrecipeforsuccess. #adultingwins #taxday #heresyourchance #ama #secretrecipeforsuccess #turbotax #taxes #friedchicken #friedchickentattoo #advice #success #entrepreneur #behindthecurtain #keys #jetlife #thebigchicken #respect #inspiration #positive #positivethoughts #artistatwork #brian #guru #worktravel #workfromanywhere #influencerlife

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  • Posts often feature brand sponsorships
  • Overarching themes of spirituality and positivity
  • Parodies of real-life influencers and their presentation on social media


Social Reach

  • Instagram followers targeted: 1.4 million


  • Likes: 130,234
  • Comments: 2,504
  • Engagement rate (overall average): 1.35%

‘Gazing Pensively Out The Window’ With A Dr. Pepper In Hand

In one of several sponsored posts with Dr. Pepper, CGI Colonel plugs the soda brand with a post of him gazing out the window of a private jet while sipping from a flute glass and donning his famous white suit.

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Having an ice-cold @DrPepper #ad while I gaze pensively out the window with a fresh perspective on the world. Always take time to be quiet and reflect, especially when you can get a new perspective on the world. It’s a big part of the #secretrecipeforsuccess. It’s so important to take the time to get a new perspective. Like when you’re super high in the air and the earth looks real small. #secretrecipeforsuccess #drpepper #imapepper #privatejet #reflecting #grateful #grateful365 #humbled #friedchicken #friedchickentattoo #advice #success #entrepreneur #behindthecurtain #keys #respect #inspiration #positive #positivethoughts #artistatwork #reflectiongram #blessed #travel #virtualcolonel

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The caption is humorous, with a recommendation that fans take time to reflect and gain a new perspective on the world: ‘Like when you’re super high in the air and the world looks real small.’ The post garnered 23,354 likes and 514 comments for an engagement rate of 1.7%.

Advocating Self-Care With Old Spice

This time sponsored by male grooming brand Old Spice, the Colonel shows off a variety of products from moisturizers to beard oil, recommending his fans to spend more time on looking good and feeling good to ‘go get your dreams.’

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#ad Self-care is really important. It’s a cliche, but it’s true that when you look good you feel good. And @oldspice definitely helps me look good and feel good. I use Moisturize with Shea Butter Body Wash ’cause #menhaveskintoo. Then I use beard oil to get my beard luscious and patently Colonel. Take some space for self-care, so you look good, then you feel good, then you are more good with yourself, then you can go get your dreams. Like starting an international series of chicken restaurants. Small things like self-care have a huge impact on beard confidence and beard look, which has a huge impact on your goals. That’s why self-care is such an important part of the #secretrecipeforsuccess and it will help you achieve your goals too. #beardhealth #protip #ad #selfcare #beard #taketimeforyourself #artistatwork #lookgoodfeelgood #thisishowyoudoit #friedchicken #advice #success #entrepreneur #behindthecurtain #keys #respect #inspiration #positive #positivethoughts #artistatwork #grooming #clean #shave #mensgrooming #virtualcolonel

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As with all his other posts, the campaign hashtag #secretrecipeforsuccess is present, along with a litany of positivity hashtags, and #virtualcolonel. The post racked up 25,596 likes and 527 comments for an engagement total of 1.94%.

Virtual Colonel Recharges With Casper

Mattress brand Casper is the recipient of one of Virtual Sanders’ better-performing posts. The Colonel talks up the company’s mattresses, posing on a bed and in front of the packaging it came in, appearing to be in a relaxed mood.

As ever, positivity is the theme, with the virtual Colonel talking about the personal importance of getting rest in order to become a ‘culinary and entrepreneurial artist.’ The post includes the campaign hashtag and tags Casper’s Instagram handle. With 26,179 likes and 571 comments, the post achieved an engagement rate of 1.91%.


  • KFC’s influencer marketing strategy was propped up by a CGI influencer to deliver their two-week campaign.
  • Reaction to the introduction of the Virtual Colonel was mixed, with the parody angle seemingly not understood by many followers.
  • Engagement for the campaign was low, with none of the sponsored posts getting over 2%.
  • The campaign demonstrates KFC’s willingness to take risks with their Instagram marketing, and will likely attempt a similarly left-of-field approach in the future.
  • The CGI influencer campaign proves the viability and potential of virtual models partnering with brands.