The latest celebrity to play KFC's manly Col. Sanders is a woman — and a famous one at that.
Grammy-winning country music star Reba McEntire dons the iconic white suit, black string tie, glasses, white wig and, yes, goatee as part of ad campaign for the fast-food chain's new Smoky Mountain BBQ fried chicken.
"I've eaten KFC my whole life. It’s been a favorite. It’s American. It’s wholesome," said the Oklahoma native, who's a fan of the chain's chicken and coleslaw.
The outfit does get a bit of a feminine makeover, though. The two-piece suit includes lots of beading and appears to be tapered to McEntire's waist. She said the transformation via wig and make-up took hours.
McEntire is the 11th person to play the chain's famous founder, Col. Harlan Sanders. Previous portrayers include actors Ray Liotta, Rob Lowe, George Hamilton and Darrell Hammond.
The ad campaign launches Sunday.
The choice of McEntire comes as sexual harassment is at the forefront of gender discussions around the country. Starting with revelations about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, this age-old ill treatment of women has prompted victims to come forward in dozens of industries from food service to media to politics.
McEntire said she took the job, offered last month, because she thought "it was a great thing to do. It’s a spoof, and I’m an actress and that’s how I took it."
KFC also said the state of American womanhood didn't play into the casting decision.
"We picked Reba McEntire because she is a perfect fit for KFC and Smoky Mountain BBQ. She embodies the qualities of the colonel with her showmanship and entrepreneurial spirit," KFC Chief Marketing Officer Andrea Zahumensky said. "We love to find people who are really iconic, like Rob Lowe is very iconic. Also, someone who really represents our product. She is definitely sweet. She has that Southern charm."
Women, of course, have been cast in male roles for years. Other examples range from Mary Martin and Allison Williams as Peter Pan in the eponymous musical, Meryl Streep as a rabbi in the HBO miniseries Angels in America and Cate Blanchett as Jude Quinn the film I'm Not There.
Using someone who doesn't look exactly like the chain's deceased founder will work to KFC's advantage, according to Bob Killian, a Chicago-based branding expert.
"It’s a meta campaign. It’s about the food or the item or the offer. It’s about 'We’re not taking advertising seriously. You should like us,' " he said. "They’re making the point that we’re in on the joke. This isn't who the colonel used to be."
McEntire marks the fourth talent change in 10 months, as KFC uses new actors for new promotions. Her campaign will run until April.
Companies from KFC to Coca-Cola are peddling items that have little to do with the noshes they're known for. Swag like this not only caters to superfans, but the more extreme merchandise may garner media attention, which means more buzz and ultimately food sales. USA TODAY
The commercial promotes Smoky Mountain BBQ fried chicken, which blends barbecue recipes from Memphis and the Carolinas. It will be available at participating U.S. restaurants starting Monday.
KFC has more than 21,000 KFC locations in close to 130 countries and territories.
The chain is owned by Yum! Brands, which also owns Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.
The stock closed at $85.69, up 45 cents or 0.53%, on Thursday.