The sketchy reason fast food companies are bringing back mascots

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KFC Brings Back Colonel Sanders in the Form of Darrell Hammond

Fast food companies like KFC, McDonald's, and Burger King have all brought back their mascots in a big way.

KFC resurrected Colonel Sanders, the brand's founder and mascot, after a 21-year hiatus. McDonald's has revamped the "Hamburglar" character after more than a decade. And Burger King reportedly paid $1 million to get its mascot in Floyd Mayweather's entourage.

There's an unsettling reason behind why companies are using the mascots, writes Claire Suddath at Bloomberg Business.

"How do you advertise enormous hamburgers and buckets of fried chicken when that's just going to remind people that they're not supposed to eat enormous hamburgers and buckets of fried chicken?" Suddath asks. "You get a funny mascot to do it for you."

Fast food companies are grappling with the perception that their products are unhealthy and dangerous. Classic fare like burgers, fries, and soda are being blamed for the global obesity epidemic, and consumers increasingly say they want fresh, healthy options.

The companies have also been criticized for marketing to children and irresponsibly selling high-calorie meals and sodas.

While McDonald's is still the most-visited fast food chain among millennials, Morgan Stanley says many young people are embarrassed to admit they eat there.

Fast food brands are trying to use the mascots to get people to connect with the brand on a more personal level.

And they're spending a lot of money to do it.

KFC hired Saturday Night Live alumnus Darrell Hammond to create a funny version of Colonel Sanders, while Burger King's mascot just popped up at the Belmont Stakes.

Fast food restaurant mascots
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The sketchy reason fast food companies are bringing back mascots
ELMONT, NY - JUNE 06: Trainer Bob Baffert (C) and Burger King attend the 147th Belmont Stakes on June 6, 2015 in Elmont City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Burger King)
FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - MARCH 30: Steve Easterbrook, CEO McDonald, poses with Ronald McDonald during the new McDonald's Flagship Restaurant re-opening at Frankfurt International Airport, Terminal 2, on March 30, 2015 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Hannelore Foerster/Getty Images)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR KFC - In honor of Colonel Sanders' birthday today, KFC surprised those waiting in line for the iPhone 6 with KFC chicken and the Colonel's signature string ties, on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014 in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision for KFC/AP Images)
Fast food icon, Jack, of Jack in the Box, makes a rare public appearance to celebrate capturing the Guinness World Record title for the world's Largest coupon on Wednesday, Mar. 25, 2015 in Los Angeles. Fans can get their own Buttery Jack Burgers at their local Jack in the Box by sharing shots of the #WorldsLargestCoupon. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision for Jack in the Box/AP Images)
A man dressed as Ronald McDonald throws out the ceremonial first pitch before a spring exhibition baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Kansas City Royals, Saturday, March 22, 2014, in Surprise, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 02: Burger King walks backstage at 'Mayweather VS Pacquiao' at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 2, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jason Merritt/WireImage)
Louisville, UNITED STATES: Colonel Sanders lookalike Colonel Bob Thompson (R) and Queen Elizabeth lookalike Judy Gindy as they arrive 05 May 2007 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky for the 133rd running of the Kentucky Derby. AFP PHOTO/Timothy A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
LeToya Luckett and Ronald McDonald's attends the 2014 Essence Music Festival Concert - Day 2 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Friday, July 04, 2014, in New Orleans LA. (Photo by Donald Traill/Invision/AP)

These maneuvers could make customers feel that the brands are funny and non-threatening, rather than dangerous.

Using a fictional character also helps these companies avoid direct criticism, such as when McDonald's tried to convince parents its food was healthy.

It's unclear whether the fast food mascots will be able to resurrect declining sales in the industry.

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