KFC Wrote a Romance Novel for Mother’s Day, and It’s Uncomfortably Good

Wieden + Kennedy continues to take the Colonel in odd directions

Lady Madeline Parker 'must choose between a life of order and a man of passion.'
Headshot of David Griner

“Sometimes it seemed as though the two of them had been made to love each other, and they tried to do so at every given opportunity.”

Thus begins Chapter 9 of Tender Wings of Desire, the 96-page romance novella ostensibly written by Colonel Sanders as part of a KFC stunt for Mother’s Day. While it’s doubtful that the Colonel himself wrote the tale—what with him being dead nearly 40 years now—what’s even more unlikely is that it’s actually pretty good.

Created with Wieden + Kennedy Portland, which has also been responsible for the brand’s recent litany of celebrity Colonels, the book’s writing is credited to “outsourced author” Catherine Kovach, a former Bustle.com feature writer who also penned a historical fantasy called Evangeline.

The stunt is specifically aimed to correspond with the approach of Mother’s Day, which KFC says is its busiest day of the year.

“Mother’s Day is KFC’s best-selling day of the year. So this year, KFC is giving moms the ultimate gift with its first romance novella, Tender Wings of Desire, featuring Harland Sanders as the love interest,” the brand explained in a statement. “Paired with a $20 Fill Up featuring KFC’s Extra Crispy Chicken, mothers can finally get what they want this year—a family meal they don’t have to cook, and some alone time with a captivating novella.”

So, is it truly captivating? While I’m no romance novel enthusiast, I decided to give it a read anyway. It’s a quick 1-hour distraction, and the Amazon ebook download is free, so why not?

For better or worse, this is no winking satire peppered with fried chicken or finger licking. The book, while not overly self-serious, plays its story pretty straight.

Lady Madeline Parker flees the pending oppression of a loveless marriage, taking a job in a seaside tavern under the cloak of anonymity. She soon meets Harland, a bespectacled sailor with a mysterious past.

“He was tall, dressed like a sailor with a striped linen shirt and woolen peacoat crusted with sea salt,” the book explains upon Sanders’ arrival. “His hair was light and fair, framing his head in airy curls, and the eyes that stared back at her were almost the exact color of the sea, perhaps darker, but not by much, and they hid behind glasses with dark frames.”

At risk of spoiling some of the plot, I can assure you they quickly become enraptured with each other.

Oh and yeah, they definitely have a bunch of sex, in case you were wondering how sanitized KFC would require a book about its family-man founder (however fictionalized) to be.

“They were so consumed that it took every ounce of their restraint not to give into the fire right then and there,” the book explains. “The flames would continue to rage throughout the night until the fire was too much, and at last they could let it engulf them.”

It soon becomes clear that Lady Parker isn’t the only one fleeing a mysterious past. Sanders receives an ominous letter, telling him, “It’s time for you to put aside your childish sailing and come back to take up the mantle of Colonel Sanders.”

Will he return to America in solitude, leaving Lady Parker to live out her love-starved life as a tavern maid? Will she forsake their passionate connection and return to the life of high society and low spirits?

I’m afraid you—or your mom—will have to read Tender Wings of Desire to find out.

Client: Kentucky Fried Chicken
Project: Tender Wings of Desire
Format: Book / Video / Social
Client contact: George Felix
Content: Printed novel, digital video, and social content

Agency: Wieden + Kennedy Portland
Creative Directors: Jason Kreher ad Freddie Powell
Executive Creative Directors: Eric Baldwin and Jason Bagley
Copywriter: Michael Brandes
Art Director: Nicole Blauw
Producer: Teresa Lai
Account Team: Jesse Johnson, Rob Archibald and Madeline Parker

Production Company: Wieden+Kennedy
Editorial Company: Wieden+Kennedy
Outsourced Author: Catherine Kovach
Creative Editors: Michael Brandes and Nicole Blauw

Illustrator: Michael Koelsch
Art producer: Heather Smith-Harvey (W+K)

@griner david.griner@adweek.com David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."