Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards

How an Injection of Counterculture Awakened KFC’s Sleeping Brand in the Netherlands

Advertising Agency
Amsterdam, Netherlands
KFC’s Trix van der Vleuten and Cloudfactory’s Sandrine Le Goff and Jessica Kersten tell LBB’s Alex Reeves about showcasing the vibrant, diverse creative culture of Dutch KFC restaurants
When Amsterdam creative agency Cloudfactory pitched for the KFC account back at the end of 2019, the brand knew it needed waking up. Globally, KFC has been throwing its marketing weight around for years, picking up creative and effectiveness awards all over the place, but in the Dutch market, that wasn’t the case. “We didn’t see that level of work in our market,” says Trix van der Vleuten, chief marketing officer for KFC Northern Europe. “We needed to ensure we brought that ‘Always Original’ feeling back to our brand, just like our founder.”

Cloudfactory saw the challenge ahead of the brand. “It had lost its energy and its identity,” says creative partner Sandrine Le Goff. “Even when we got the brief, before we met the client, we were not sure we wanted to work on it at first. And then we had the chemistry session.” Meeting Trix changed their minds though.

“She was very bold and very clear on what she wanted,” says Sandrine. “She has a vision to wake the brand up. She actually showed us what was done in the UK as inspiration for what the brand could be here.”

Cloudfactory saw the potential to electrify a brand that had so much potential in the Netherlands. But unlike the UK, where Mother’s brilliant ads rest on a foundation of chicken shop culture and a deep familiarity with the Colonel, the Dutch market saw fried chicken differently. “We eat all kinds of food but fried chicken is not part of our culture,” says Jessica Kersten, creative director and co-founder of Cloudfactory. “We have a very specific fry shop culture. And it's all deep frozen. So people have judged KFC based on that. They don't know it's fresh chicken.”

Both Sandrine and Jessica actually only tried KFC for the first time in the past year, and they were surprised and relieved to discover the quality of the food. That was step one in the Cloudfactory team about what KFC really means in the Dutch market. They started going to restaurants around the country together, observing and soaking up the atmosphere, meeting the people who ate and worked there. What they discovered was that KFC’s communications weren’t reflecting the reality of what was happening in those restaurants.

“We noticed it's a fabulous place for the counterculture of the Netherlands,” says Sandrine. “The people who go there are from all sorts of different cultures and have different ways of life. It's very present in big cities like Rotterdam. Actually in the Netherlands, the forefront of the new culture, the counterculture is Rotterdam, not Amsterdam. So we, the little Amsterdam creatives, spent time there. There are these young people who are very proud of where they're coming from, instead of having a stigma around coming from Morocco or Suriname or coming from certain neighbourhoods. Actually, on the contrary, they took a lot of pride about it.” 

They also realised that KFC has a deep connection to Dutch nightlife. Whereas some fast food restaurants were more family oriented, the Cloudfactory team learned that KFC often stays open later. “KFC has much more edge, and it's really more part of nightlife, it's spicy, cooler,” says Jessica. “So we wanted to show the world the people that come there and that work there and their energy.” 

An idea of what the agency wanted to celebrate was coming together, but it really began to crystallise when the creatives started to think conceptually about the bucket that KFC is often served in. “There's something very pure about the bucket, we both realised,” says Sandrine. “Sharing a bucket is pretty intimate - especially in the time of Covid. But even before that, if you share a bucket with someone who you don't know, it actually kind of shifts the relationship. 

“We started imagining: Two really cool people, very proud of where they're coming from - the influences or rappers or fashion designers that are really coming from the counterculture, not establishment people. If they could share buckets with each other, they’d have a lot of things to say to each other. That's how the idea started to grow.” 

These interesting, creative, cool people would be ‘United by the Bucket’. And there was the line. They knew it. “Every good campaign is true to the product and is also true to the way you experience it and what you promise your consumers. We found that core of sharing chicken, which is very democratic, and at the same time being really proud about who you are and where you come from. We wanted to bring that together.

KFC knew it was the right approach. “When we heard ‘United by the Bucket’ it felt instantly like a home run,” says Trix. “The line and the passion for craft from the ladies gave us the confidence that this was what we were looking for.”

The next step was to represent that feeling in a campaign. The goal for Trix and her team was to situate the brand in the culture that’s natural territory for KFC. “We had some great sessions about the current Zeitgeist and how we as a brand fit naturally into that,” she says. The answer was, “starting from within, from our people in our restaurants - team members and guests.”

That meant Cloudfactory had to find the people in Dutch counterculture who would fit this brief. The idea was to find the right people and then build a film around them, situated in a setting that brought out what makes them so special. One key figure they knew fitted the bill was former night mayor of Amsterdam (yes that’s a real title) Shamiro van der Geld. “Everybody knows him and loves him. He's a super nice guy. And he's uber cool,” says Jessica. And like the rest of the figures, they had to present him in a way that represents his character. So they put him riding through the streets of the night on a black unicorn, because that’s the sort of guy he is apparently. “This totally fits him because that's who he is,” says Jessica. “We gave him the pedestal he deserves because he's just such an icon in himself,” agrees Sandrine.

With Shamiro on board, the many influencers, rappers and counterculturati of the Netherlands were happy to be involved. The campaign showcases individuals who address different topics and want to make a meaningful contribution to society. Fashion designer Jimmy Paul zooms in on gender inclusivity, stuntwoman Saskia Neville focuses on the stereotyping surrounding (stunt) women. Frisian musician Joost Klein created the commercial's track. Bringing his unique tone and humour to the commercial's atmosphere. Actor Martijn van Eijzeren (also known as Stuntkabouter) is depicted with his entourage  and also played a creative role in the campaign. Then there are figures like Mohammed Darabyou from Amsterdam North. Years ago, without a diploma, Mohammed started working at KFC in the kitchens, marinating chicken. He took up the opportunities offered to him by the fast-food chain with both hands and now runs two restaurants in the Dutch province of North-Holland.

All of these people have creative spirits that Sandrine and Jessica wanted to nurture and collaborate with, so the process was always going to be fluid. Even when it came to choosing the director, the pair approached Ismaël ten Heuvel first and he suggested Teddy Cherim co-directed alongside him, with Ismaël bringing his trademark emotional intensity and Teddy bringing his street culture and humour to the film. “Everybody was open minded to collaborate, no egos,” says Sandrine. “You're working with these young people, what they bring to the table and, you have to be open minded to change all the time. That's exactly how we want to work. So that's why we're so proud. It's not just how cool it looks, but also the process has been exactly how we wish it would always be.”

Covid-19, of course, impacted on the way the campaign came together. In fact, they were ready to shoot the day before lockdown came in for the Netherlands. “I did cry when we got the phone call, because I thought it was over,” says Sandrine. As it turns out, a bit of time to put the brakes on and take a step back was beneficial. The team did a bit of rethinking, considering what they could and should depict in the eventuality that coronavirus continues to affect everyone’s lives for some time. “Actually we all agreed - the client, directors and us - that the script got much better.”

Specifically, they looked critically at each scene to be sure that they weren’t promoting behaviours that weren’t feasible in reality, if there was more lockdown or more restrictions for a longer period of time. The end scene was originally going to be in a restaurant with a lot of people together, so obviously that had to go. “I think the ending is super good now because it's actually more symbolic of what it is to be an original and to be united by the bucket,” says Sandrine. “Rather than doing it physically, I think we do it more symbolically. And I think we prefer it.” 

Thankfully, flexibility was built into this campaign way before Covid. They were going to be working with influencers, so Cloudfactory knew there would be dropouts and rewrites. “We re-wrote the script like a hundred times,” says Sandrine. “But then I have to say that we've had the most wonderful client, because every time Trix would be like, 'OK, so what has changed this time? Oh? Only three people changed!'”

Jessica was grateful for the chance to work in the flexible style she feels Cloudfactory embodies on this campaign. “A lot of client processes can be killing your creativity,” she says. “And this time our client gave us a lot of space to change and make it better and better and better and better and more unexpected. I think it's also one of our strengths. And why the film has become what it has become. It has been very fluid. It's how we work as an agency. This is the most extreme example, though.” 

By showcasing the most electrifying figures in Dutch counterculture, the campaign was shaping up to be more diverse than most ads in the country quite naturally. But when the summer’s events intensified the diversity conversation around Black Lives Matter, the team knew they needed to reassess everything from yet another angel. They resolved to take a look at what they were creating to ensure they weren’t stereotyping anyone. “It was always very important for us to be authentic, and write scenes that portray [the cast] in the way they actually are, not making something up,” says Sandrine. “So because we chose this point of view, we were never stereotyping. 

“The spirit of the campaign is that we are there to celebrate people that are original in their own way. And sharing that spirit with other people. That's why counterculture is beautiful. It influences and it makes the culture much more diverse and interesting.”