Stay Tuned/31 August 1997

From Eccentric Flower


stay tuned

31 August 1997
(Sunday Papers)

There almost wasn't a column this week. The holiday brought a complete lack of advertising, and frankly I was a little frantic as well, so I was prepared to print an apology and blow the thing off. But then I found something which really riled me up. So now, at one a.m. on the morning of the 2nd, I am preparing this piece. It's short, but I really need to vent this.

It All Tastes Alike Anyway

You may have known for some time that Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut are all owned by the same company, a company which makes a consumer beverage which we won't mention here, except to say that there's a reason it's served in those chains.

You may have known it back when it was still a stealthy, completely unpublicized fact. I did, but I stumbled across it; I surmised bitterly that any chain which served The Beverage In Question probably did it only because it was forced to by its corporate owners. I looked it up, and to my surprise, I was right. (I was about sixteen at the time, which will serve as an example of why I was even more insufferable as a kid.)

You may have looked it up when Kentucky Fried Chicken legally changed its name and its signage to read "KFC," inspired by a desire to find out what corporate behemoth executed such a boneheaded move. (Memo to the makers of the Unnamed Beverage: just because people habitually refer to an establishment by its acronym does not mean that said acronym would make a fetching name.)

You may have looked it up when Pizza Hut's product line veered wildly off into never-never land, with extra meat and extra cheese and extra-extra meat and extra-extra cheese and cheese in the crust and probably meat baked into the crust any day now.

(Actually, I can't call that last part boneheaded; it strikes me as vile, wretchedly excessive, and a tribute to the rote idea that more always equals better, but it probably sells a fair number of pizzas. What was it about no one ever going broke betting on the stupidity ...? Never mind.)

Anyway, though you may have noticed when any of those things happened, you certainly must have noticed when the Kentucky Fried Chicken (excuse me: KFC) establishments began sporting purple add-on awnings which said "Taco Bell." Very clearly.

Witness, brethren and sistren, the birth of the KFC Taco Hut.

It's true, the KFCs haven't begun to sport that red fake-tile ziggurat roof yet, but I figure it's only a matter of time.

The problem is, as far as I can tell (someone correct me if my guess is wrong - it's only based on crowd-watching), that Taco Bells generally make fair money, KFCs are sorta flatline, and Pizza Huts are something of a losing proposition. The last guess being based on the idea that most of the pizza business in this country is delivery, and even the Pizza Huts which offer it don't have an established reputation for doing so. Everyone knows that Pizza Hut is where you take the family to sit down together, eat grease, and have the kids spill red pepper flakes and parmesan cheese all over the table top from those little shakers.

And although, if I were the CEO of a Nameless Corporation, my solution to the matter wouldn't be to inject taco content into everything (I'd nuke the Pizza Huts and build Taco Bells on the sites, and use the money to shore up the KFC operations, but I'm letting my personal tastes in fast food bias me), I can't argue with a method that's designed to keep the whole thing from falling apart.

But, darn it, this time they've gone too far.

I have a flyer here for my local KFC. Fairly typical of their recent advertising, featuring the strange products, such as the "KFC Twister," that management is trying in an attempt to breathe life into the chain. (Another is "Tender Roast Chicken," which is so obviously a stab at regaining business lost to Boston Market that I almost feel sorry for these people.)

Nothing too out of the ordinary, though, until you get to two coupons, printed on a separate leaf, apart from the coupons in the rest of the flyer. They are printed in the same KFC-standard typeface and colors as the other coupons and the rest of the ad.

One of them says, "Taco 49 Cents With Any Purchase. (Crunchy or Soft.)"

The other offers a "Sampler Combo" for $3.99, which, upon inspection, consists of 2 chicken strips, 2 tacos, potato wedges, and a drink. The back of the flyer has a photo of chicken strips next to tacos, with a container of Nameless Beverage in the background, and the caption "Two Great Tastes Together In One Place."

Good heavens, do they expect us to be complacent about it now? Do they really think we'll just lie down and roll over and act like there's nothing even the least bit remotely odd about suddenly finding Mexican food in the fried chicken place?

Mind you, I like Taco Bell. I like KFC too, or did before they started going all weird in the menu. But these are not two great tastes that go great together.

But Pepsi (oh, damn, I said it) figures we're either too lazy to care, or too jaded, or too dumb, or that our tastebuds are leaden enough for it not to matter.

On the other hand, if you drink enough Pepsi before you eat, you really can't taste any difference anyway.

Hindsight: 26 February 2007

As I noted in March 1998: "This short and bitter little rant was greeted with a profound silence from my usual correspondents, so I'm assuming it's one of those things that just doesn't seem to annoy anyone but me."

I hate defusing a good batch of bitterness toward Pepsi, mostly because I loathe their beverage and the way they run restaurants (for years a restaurant which was forced to serve Pepsi was also a good instant-indicator that the restaurant was none too clean or attentive), but I feel an obligation to point out that, at the time this was written, the effort to spin off the three chains as a separate company was probably already ticking around in the PepsiCo boardroom. Now, as described in the Hindsight here, they are part of Yum!

Somewhere else, possibly not in these pages, I had a long discussion about the renaming of KFC - whether it was done because there was a word they deliberately wanted to not remind people of, and if so, which one. Although I was worried it might be "Kentucky," and there were numerous amusing theories involving the word "Chicken," the overall consensus was that they don't want to remind you that any of their food is "Fried."

Pizza Hut continues its odd and desperate stunts to lure in a fresh generation of business - in March 1998 it was pizza which had toppings all the way out to the edge and was promoted as being "extreme."

Wikipedia, amusingly, points out that I have incorrectly generated a compound name. A restaurant which is the intersection of the chicken and taco sets is Kentucky Fried Taco; the intersection of chicken and pizza is similarly Kentucky Fried Pizza; pizza and taco would be Taco Hut; and if you manage to find the hat trick (I still have never seen all three under one roof) the preferred terms are KenTaco Hut or Colonel's Taco Hut. I bow to superior etymology.

and now back to our program

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