The press release promoting the “Kentucky Fried Wedding” arrived in my inbox weeks ago, but my God – Mick Jagger-like, in Memphis – I have not been able to shift the details from my mind.
“In an ode to true love,” the corporate account manager announced, tenderly, the company was providing opportunity for six lucky nuptial couples to “smash freshly cooked Kentucky Fried Chicken courtesy of the KFC Food Truck” amid the romance and solemnity of their weddings.
But the fried fast-food brand would not merely provide gratis catering for these six big days. They’d bestow a “KFC-themed celebrant to make it all official, a KFC photo booth to capture those happy memories, custom KFC buckets and musical entertainment”.
I near swooned with the poetry of it, because this had to be the greatest marketing ploy since a published fondness for doughnuts (I can only presume) recruited me to the marketing list for media people who admit eating crap. Attached to the email: a fashion-quality photograph of a beautiful woman in a white, bridal ballgown, prone on a chaise, shoving chicken drumsticks from a bucket into her mouth.
Of course it couldn’t be real, because what could possibly be next? The Domino’s-sponsored delivery of a baby in a birthing suite? If the baby’s not there in 20 minutes, does Mum, at least, get her Hawaiian for free? Band-Aids sponsoring a bris is a logical brand partnership but who, indeed, receives the complimentary grease-and-oil change at a Jiffy Lube funeral really does boggle the mind.
Wondering if anyone had actually believed this ingenious scam and registered, I gave into temptation and phoned said account manager to find out how many people had been duped. As it turned out, the only dupe was me. The scheme was entirely real. As of this week, more than 1,000 couples had earnestly signed up to hear their “I now pronounce you” announcement spoken by a) Colonel Sanders, b) a large chicken, c) a bucket. I really cannot guess.
The problem with underestimating late capitalism’s insidious infection of everything is not so much finding out that you’re wrong, as it is finding out the reality to which you’ve clung has been wrecked forever and left long behind.
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In February, Vogue reported the emergence of hashtagged wedding sponsorship as a celebrity phenomenon. A “fashion influencer” and rapper wed with every detail of their nuptial union – from the airlines to take them there to the “three custom Dior dresses” the bride wore over the weekend with a #sponsored acknowledgment on their Instagram feeds.
This actually represents progress. Another fashion influencer’s romcom-themed, three-day-long engagement “scavenger hunt” was rumbled for not fessing up to the sponsored nature of its proceedings. Her ardent fiance, it appeared, had “popped the question” to numerous potential brand partners in a tactical marketing outreach. I can imagine it smelled just like deep, red roses, and the love expressed was very sincere.
The rapper/influencer wedding, by the way, was estimated to have a “Media Impact Value” of US$36m for the sponsoring brands, according to a metrics assessor. One can appreciate just how fairytale the quality of the Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas ceremonial union really was from the exclusive photo of it released to the internet to promote Amazon’s wedding gift registry.
Weddings, of course, have long been about the expression of power, rather than of love – ask any of the unfortunate young women traded by their royal families to the rotten princelings of Europe for hundreds of years; one remembers, with sadness, the doomed brides of the Spanish Habsburgs. The marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer may have been miserable, but their wedding’s $100m price tag – at the height of austere Thatcherism – was some effective communication that the monarchy was staying put. The wedding albums of oligarchs and oil barons hardly heave with moments of intimacy.
The habit of us commoners to associate ourselves with the pomp and stature of the powerful by aping it in our own rituals has been established since Queen Victoria chose to wear a highly unusual white wedding dress she would never herself have to clean. The internet abounds with Facebook groups of “wedding shamers” who tear apart the taste of those desperately aspiring to the “fairytale” weddings of the rich and well-sponsored on the budget of not-rich and ever unmarketable.
As the average Australian wedding now reportedly costs upwards of $65,000, one sees now where KFC – like Burger King, as it turns out, in America before them – saw their window.
I wish the happy couples all the best. At least the food will be delicious.
• Van Badham is a Guardian Australia columnist