This man is the genius behind the Kingsley's 'awesome chips' tagline
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This man is the genius behind the Kingsley's 'awesome chips' tagline

Communications specialist Mark Kulasingham's resume is an impressive list of senior advisory roles across government and the private sector.

But it's missing something. Something crucial. The kind of achievement that would capture the attention of some of the world's most drooled-after employers, like Google, Facebook or The Canberra Times.

It's the tagline only the people of Canberra truly understand, and Mark Kulasingham created it.

It's the tagline only the people of Canberra truly understand, and Mark Kulasingham created it.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

Mark is the man behind one of the greatest fast food taglines of all time.

The 40-something - who grew up in Malaysia and whose university assignments were "well written but lacked substance" - is the marketing genius behind the Kingsley's Chicken tagline "awesome chips". (The "unbelievable chicken" part is a whole other story.)

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Mark is local fried chicken guru Kingsley's cousin, and moved to Canberra from Malaysia (via an arts degree in Adelaide) in the early 1990s to be a "chip chucker" at the very first Kingsley's Chicken store in Woden.

'I still eat the chicken and chips as often as I can - you can't beat it,' Mark says of his cousin Kingsley's southern-fried recipe.

'I still eat the chicken and chips as often as I can - you can't beat it,' Mark says of his cousin Kingsley's southern-fried recipe.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

He'd studied military history back home in Kuala Lumpur but his clever writing ability and a knack for knowing his target audiences drew the attention of KL advertising agency Black and Brown (so named, "Because one owner was black, the other brown," Mark explains).

In 1993, when cousin Kingsley had Canberra fast food domination on his mind and looked to expand his empire from three stores to eight, he needed some serious marketing talent.

Kingsley turned to the young cousin staring back eagerly from in front of the deep frier.

"We need a re-brand," Kingsley told Mark. "And we need something snappy to describe the chips."

Mark looked to the big three for inspiration: McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Hungry Jack's. He led a re-brand of the Kingsley's packaging to "gaudy" red, yellow and black, and went in search of a tagline for the legendary crinkle-cut chips.

The Queanbeyan Kingsley's Chicken store in 2000.

The Queanbeyan Kingsley's Chicken store in 2000.Credit:Richard Briggs

He took the challenge to the people. Armed with large foil packets of crinkle cut chips and tubs of gravy, Mark entered new market research territory: the Woden bus interchange.

Every day at 3pm, school buses of teens pulled up and Mark handed out the chips. There was a single word the teens kept repeating over and over again: "Awesome!"

The "awesome chips" tagline - so misunderstood by people outside of the ACT - was born.

"Without the big budgets of the American fast food chains and in a world pre-Facebook, when it came to marketing we did the only thing we knew how to do - take the piss out of ourselves," Mark said.

After gifting the people of Canberra with an iconic tagline, Mark did what most Canberrans do and joined the public service.

After gifting the people of Canberra with an iconic tagline, Mark did what most Canberrans do and joined the public service.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

"It was all about television in the early 1990s. We had TV ads with puppet burgers and chips and shakes.

"And when we placed the McChicken and the KFC fillet burger next to our burgers, we received a cease and desist letter from Maccas."

As low cost and simple as the Kingsley's Chicken marketing was in the 1990s, it worked.

Today, 25 years after the birth of the "Unbelievable chicken, awesome chips" tagline, the Kingsley's Chicken empire encompasses eight stores from as far south as Lanyon to as far north as the Kippax shops.

Mark himself has traded deep-fried potato chips for managing communication campaigns for the federal government. He lives in Farrer with wife Joanna and his two sons, and was the Labor candidate for Murrumbidgee at the 2016 ACT Government election.

"Of all the things I've contributed to Canberra, my work at Kingsley's is probably the most prolific," he laughs.

Bree Element is the life and entertainment editor at The Canberra Times

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