The internet has spent the better part of this week registering its collective delight that KFC has commissioned a breathtaking portrait of Mike Edgette, the man who discovered that the brand follows a combination of “11 Herbs and Spices” (well, men named Herb and Spice Girls) on Twitter. But the internet is also feeling some collective skepticism, wondering if Edgette has been collaborating with the Colonel this entire time.
First, let’s talk about that painting, because it is glorious. At the center of what looks like a Bob Ross fever dream, our hero, Colonel Harland Sanders, is giving a piggyback ride to a drumstick-toting Edgette. The two of them are being respectfully appraised by a deer, a rabbit and a bluebird, all of whom are probably wondering why a grown man is wearing a pair of khaki cargo shorts.
“I have no idea where they got the picture [of me],” Edgette told MUNCHIES. “The day after my tweet, they DMed me and said ‘Things are coming your way, just send us your address.’ On Friday, they said your package will be there on Saturday. I didn’t send them anything, they didn’t tell me what it was, they just said ‘It’s coming.’ I’m looking at Facebook and on Twitter, at what pictures they could’ve pulled from my profile, but I can’t find one that matches. That part is borderline creepy, but it’s cool looking.”
The painting was accompanied by a year’s worth of $5-dollar gift cards and a letter offering Edgette a “Kentucky Fried thank you” for discovering KFC’s 11-account Twitter secret. “I wasn’t sure if anyone in the world had the wits, skill and sheer determination to solve this puzzle I had created,” the Colonel wrote. “And you not only solved it, you went ‘viral,’ as they say, with it.”
But—SPOILER ALERT—the real Colonel neither wrote that letter, nor had anything to do with that dad-joke of a Twitter account. (And not just because he’s been dead for 27 years). The entire thing was orchestrated by KFC’s ad agency, Wieden+Kennedy, the same creative minds who released Harland Sanders erotica into the world. The painting and Edgette’s discovery were the culmination of a weeks-long stunt by Wieden+Kennedy, who quietly changed KFC’s Twitter account to see if anyone would notice.
“We planted this on Twitter over a month ago,” Freddie Powell, creative director at Wieden+Kennedy, told AdWeek. “Frankly, we weren’t sure if anybody was going to find it. Sometimes you just have to put stuff out into the universe and cross your fingers that the internet will work its magic.”
The internet did work its magic, but unfortunately some of that magic is questioning the purity of every-freaking-thing. In a Reddit thread about Edgette’s new wall art, several people wondered whether he was in with Wieden+Kennedy, with KFC, or with both of them. “According to […] his Twitter profile, the guy works for a PR firm,” a Redditor named your_fish_monger wrote. “His Twitter account for the past few months is a bunch of posts about Yum Brands' two main stores, KFC and Taco Bell. 100% this entire thing is a full set up and this wasn't some random guy who just happened to discover the 11 Twitter followers of KFC.”
Sorry to disappoint you, Reddit, but Edgette is just a random guy. “I promise I’m just a guy who spends too much time on Twitter,” he said. “It's true that I work for a PR firm, but not every PR firm in the world is associated with KFC. I’m the social media manager at TallGrass PR in South Dakota. We’re just a local place, but I do spend a lot of time on social media, which is the reason I figured it out. I’d never tweeted about KFC before but I like Taco Bell, so I’ve tweeted about Taco Bell a couple of times, so that’s the smoking gun, I guess. At first, I thought it was kind of silly, but now people everywhere are calling me out for it.”
Fueling Reddit’s fire is their discovery that Edgette wasn’t the first person to make the connection between KFC’s Twitter account and those herbs and spices. On September 21—a full month before Edgette—an Englishman named MrBinks tweeted a screenshot of KFC’s account with the comment “The only Twitter accounts that @KFC follows are a joy to behold.”
His observation was met with… silence, and he’s still trying to process why. “My guess would be that they made a decision based upon how [Edgette’s] tweet went viral and mine did not,” MrBinks—who asked that we not use his real name—told MUNCHIES. “It wasn’t a competition, but I’m guessing they decided to ride the wave before checking facts. To then admit they got it wrong would make it look silly. I’m just gutted that my well-scribed tweet was shunned.”
But two days before that, a Minnesota DJ named Chaz Kangas made the same discovery. “In September, I saw that KFC had unfollowed me on Twitter,” Kangas said. “I have a longstanding Twitter back-and-forth with KFC, so when I checked it out, I saw they’d done a mass unfollowing and had unfollowed all but 11 people. I put it together, the 11 herbs and spices, and tweeted about that. I kind of forgot about it for a month […] until after the whole hoopla happened.”
Kangas said that he’s tried to contact KFC, to see if they had noticed that he was the first person to crack that particular Easter egg, but he hasn’t heard from them. “It's like with certain songs when you wonder why did this song take off, but the other didn’t. What’s the difference between A and B? Sometimes it’s just that B got a break.”
So what made Edgette’s observation more viable or more worthy of a painting involving the Colonel’s own strong, meaty thighs? Even he’s not sure. “You can’t just create a viral tweet, even if you want to,” he said. “I had 90 followers when this started, so where it began to snowball, I have no idea. KFC didn’t even retweet it. Part of it may have had to do with the wording, because other people didn’t point it out the way I did. I feel bad for them, but I didn’t choose for this to happen. It just happened.”
The real KFC code-breaker might be a user-experience expert named Bill Harrison. More than eight—EIGHT!—years ago, he tweeted his own ad idea for KFC. “Reunite Spice Girls,” he wrote. “Pair them with barbershop eleventet, 11 guys named Herb. 11 herbs and spices = marketing gold.”
Now that’s a man who deserves an oil painting.