Why KFC Paid to Put Colonel Sanders in an Obscure California High School Yearbook

One student's clever way to fund the production costs

Headshot of Tim Nudd

It’s hard to reach young people with advertising, especially in print. But one publication you know they consume obsessively is their high school yearbook. This spring, KFC is reaping the rewards of a hypertargeted media buy in just one yearbook—at the urging of a student.

Hannah Hightman reached out to advertisers through their agencies and got KFC to buy ad space in the form of a Colonel Sanders headshot, mixed in with all other headshots, in the new yearbook at Bear Creek High School in Stockton, Calif.

“Yearbooks are a really a great place to advertise, especially in the portrait section,” Hightman tells local ABC station KXTV-TV. “Kids are already looking there anyway, so if they see something out of place that’s going to stick in their head and they’ll probably remember that.”

Hightman reached out to KFC through its ad agency, Wieden + Kennedy. W+K tells AdFreak that they liked her idea and helped facilitate the request with the KFC clients. “We were impressed by the idea and her tenacity, and were happy to help her make it happen,” Eric Baldwin, executive creative director at W+K Portland, tells AdFreak.

Sanders wasn’t the only familiar face in the yearbook. Geico’s gecko also appeared in the portraits section. The Martin Agency tells us they were happy to give Hightman permission to use the gecko pic, but that placement wasn’t paid.

Hightman also included a bunch of celebrity photos in the yearbook—Will Smith, Lady Gaga, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and more—after securing permission from someone who owns the rights to a library of celebrity yearbook photos, KXTV reports.

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.