Campaign of the Week

14 November 2023

KFC creates cooking contest in Zelda with Colonel Sanders lookalike 

KFC created a fried-chicken cooking competition inside the new Zelda game after noticing a striking resemblance between one of the characters and its own mascot-cum-founder

In May 2023, gamers could finally get their hands on The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (TOTK), the hotly anticipated sequel to one of the most popular video games of all time. As gamers shared their in-game adventures across social media, fast food brand KFC noticed that a minor character bore a passing resemblance to Colonel Sanders himself. Not only this but for the first time in a Legend of Zelda game, players could use in-game ingredients to cook fried chicken.​​​​​​​

To take advantage of the happy coincidence, KFC Spain created The Recipe Run, a campaign that rewarded gamers who could cook the brands signature chicken in the game as quickly as possible.

While TOTK focuses on open-world exploration, combat, crafting and storytelling, the game also features a robust cooking system, where players can track down various ingredients to create food that offers gameplay advantages. To participate in The Recipe Run challenge, gamers needed to upload gameplay footage of themselves on social media talking to the Colonel look-a-like and then collecting and cooking raw chicken, cooking oil and 11 herbs and spices scattered throughout the virtual world of TOTK as quickly as possible (or speed running, to use gaming parlance). Successful attempts were rewarded with real KFC, which could be claimed via the KFC Spain app.

KFC also invited amateur gamers from 17 countries to compete against each other to complete The Recipe Run, awarding the player with the quickest time a gold trophy in the form of a chicken thigh valued at €11,000 ($11,600).

To create the campaign, the brand worked with Spanish creative agency PS21 and SRE (@SpeedrunEspanol), a Spanish speed running community.

Results / According to the agency, #TheRecipeRun was trending on Twitter within hours of the campaign launch and generated 145 million impressions on social media with 100 hours of organic content globally created.

In one week, there were 2,500 participants and a 58% increase in web traffic during the promotion with 44.5% of orders for KFC placed via a desktop computer compared to the five-month average of 12%.

Contagious Insight 

A link to the past / It might seem that KFC got lucky. After all, the Colonel-looking character was already present in the game, and so was fried chicken and a cooking mechanic that included numerous herbs and spices. But The Recipe Run is a direct result of KFC spending decades on communications that consistently reinforce its distinctive brand assets and brand association with fried chicken.

Since 1952, nearly all of KFC’s communications have in some way reinforced the link between the Colonel, the 11 herbs and spices and the irresistible taste of its fried chicken. That legacy gives the brand scope to activate anywhere in culture, whether by writing a romance novel, catering weddings, pursuing a Michelin Star and even voicing your sat nav

Now, KFC is so well established the link between fried chicken, the Colonel and the 11 herbs and spices, that people who create culture are inadvertently creating new opportunities for the brand to activate around. After all, that minor character in TOTK who looks like the Colonel was voluntarily put into the game by developer Nintendo as a small, tongue-in-cheek surprise for gamers without KFC knowing.

KFC’s The Recipe Run might appear to be little more than a savvy social media campaign built in reaction to a noticing minor cameo of the Colonel in the game, but this campaign has been decades in the making.

Hey! Listen! / It’s little wonder that the launch of TOTK was a moment in gaming culture. The previous game in the series, the 2017 The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, was universally loved by both critics and gamers, attracting headlines such as ‘Is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild the best-designed game ever?’ and earning a legacy as ‘The best game of all time’.

To no one’s surprise, when gamers got their hands on TOTK, they instantly took to social media and streaming platforms to create content and talk about the game. However, this content focussed almost exclusively on the wacky creativity of players experimenting with the crafting system.

With The Recipe Run, KFC gave gamers something new to share. The offer of free chicken incentivised initial participation, but the genius of the campaign was that it gave people genuinely entertaining content to share across social media. Content that got gamers talking about KFC and voluntarily creating 100 hours of organic branded content.

In their Media in Focus report, Les Binet and Peter Field argue that for campaigns using online media ‘brand effects are enhanced by social amplification and herd behaviour’ with earned media in particular ‘boosting marketing effectiveness by 26%’. Put simply, a campaign will do better if people are willingly talking about it on the internet. Which is precisely what The Recipe Run got people doing.

Open your eyes… / Games are complicated, but KFC makes it look easy to activate around them. This is a brand that has consistently proven itself able to show up and successfully connect with gamers. Whether that is in e-sports with Colonel KI, making its mascot playable in Street Fighter 6 or even creating a fully fledged dating simulator. The Recipe Run is no exception.

So how does the brand do it? By waking up and seeing that the nuances of gaming mechanics create new opportunities for making the mundane interesting. Speaking about the campaign, Ruben Sánchez, creative director of PS21 told Contagious, ‘Gaming has proven to be the perfect tool to make something interesting that by itself and in the real world is not usually interesting. Frying chicken may not seem like a very sexy or entertaining task, however, by putting it in the hands of the protagonist of TOTK, we can turn it into something exciting to the point of generating over 100 hours of organic user-generated content.’

KFC recognises that gaming offers the brand the opportunity to turn up in completely unexpected and new ways that surprise and delight audiences. You can read our full Contagious trend report on gaming here.

This article was downloaded from the Contagious intelligence platform. If you are not yet a member and would like access to 11,000+ campaigns, trends and interviews, email [email protected] or visit to learn more.