At first, the Twitterverse didn’t buy it.
Mario Lopez leads a deliciously B-list cast in Lifetime and KFC’s “A Recipe for Seduction,” a mini-movie about Colonel Harlan Sanders, a perso…
Lifetime tweeted a promotion for “A Recipe for Seduction,” a mini-movie presented with Kentucky Fried Chicken at 11 a.m. this Sunday on Lifetime. The mini-movie would star Mario Lopez in the role of Harlan Sanders, a chef with a secret recipe (as well as dimples and biceps). In this universe, Colonel Harlan Sanders also has an eye for the heiress of the wealthy family for whom he cooks.
Lifetime said the production was real, and ponied up a trailer, complete with Lopez in a perfect salt-and-pepper mustache and Ken doll hair.
Even with its hair-trigger fingers, Twitter was ... delighted. The initial tweet was retweeted more than 30,000 times and generated more than 4,000 replies.
Jennifer Porst, who teaches media law and regulation, television history and digital distribution in the University of North Texas Media Arts Department, said the production is novel if not original.
“One of the first things came to mind were the BMW and Lexus films, which are luxury brands,” Porst said. “BMW had a series called ‘The Hire’ and it won a ton of awards. It was basically 10- to 15-minute-ish short films. Each film was its own story. They just had to drive the BMW in it. This, though, is for a fast-food chain, and that’s not something anyone associates with luxury.”
“A Recipe for Seduction” reimagines Colonel Sanders as a personal chef who works on his personal ambitions — developing his secret recipe into something profitable — while cooking for a wealthy family. When he falls for the heiress of the family, not only does he compete with a well-funded suitor, but his true love’s murderous mother.
The mini-movie is meant to elicit guffaws, from the impeccable grooming of the younger Colonel Sanders to the pink sweater draped, 1980s-style, over the shoulders of his rival. The mini-movie pokes fun at the femme fatale and damsel-in-danger fare Lifetime is known for, too. When actress Tessa Munro growls, “Just kill him already!” during a high-tension abduction scene with poor Sanders strapped in a chair, she’s vamping it up for the Lifetime audience.
“That’s part of the fun,” Porst said. “We’re supposed to enjoy that camp aspect of it, and it seems to be working.”
Porst said Yum! Brands, the parent company of the Southern fried chicken chain, has been experimenting with different ways to bring the white-suited, bespectacled Colonel Sanders into 21st century popular culture.
“When you think of fast food, you think of Ronald McDonald and kids,” Porst said. “It looks like KFC is trying to make the Colonel this telenovela figure. Last year, they had a video game called ‘I Love You, Colonel Sanders!’ You have to make choices between certain pieces of dialogue and try to get him to fall in love with you. It turns out he responds really well to dialogue that mentions chicken. People were on social media saying, ‘Well, it’s no surprise.’”
The fast-food juggernaut also produced a sort of romance novel featuring the Indiana-born, Kentucky-bred gentleman, as well as a series of comedic television spots with recognizable actors in a white suit, white wig and facial hair: Norm Macdonald, Reba McEntire, Jim Gaffigan and Rob Lowe, to name a few. The company sells chicken-scented fireplace starter logs, too.
Porst said companies are struggling to keep consumer eyes on traditional advertising, be it newspaper advertisements or television commercials.
“The introduction of digital platforms and the ability to skip commercials have really changed the way we see ads, or don’t see them,” Porst said. “So companies are struggling with this question of, ‘How can audiences see our brand?’ So this is obviously branded, and not just for KFC. I don’t know if you noticed, but with Lifetime, there’s this battle between their network and Hallmark for Christmas movies. Hallmark made 40 Christmas movies this year that started airing before Halloween. ... Lifetime made 34 Christmas movies. It’s like we’ve heard about the War on Christmas, but this is the war for Christmas. Those networks are competing for the viewers and the advertising the movies bring in.”
Porst said the social media engagement around the 15-minute movie might mean that the production has already succeeded. Porst said the fast-food chain will test the response by how many consumers hail UberEats for $20 worth of KFC food or more (delivered in a holiday-themed bucket with six free extra crispy chicken tenders).
“Advertising dollars plummeted post-pandemic, that’s another reason we’re seeing this kind of advertising,” Porst said. “All businesses are asking, ‘How can we improve our bottom line? How can I get people to come to my channel?’ Things like this are a way to get people aware of your brand.”
Given that the mini-movie is expected to be junk food television, will Porst be watching?
“Oh yeah,” she said. “Times are so hard. This is why we need a ridiculous Colonel Sanders mini-movie. I think we just all need ridiculous fun in our lives right now.”