Communications campaign of the year 2018: KFC or is it FCK?

Yerin Seo sets out why KFC’s response to a crisis is her favourite campaign of 2018

What is it? A global chicken fast food franchise running out of chicken. PR disaster? Almost certainly. Unless that is you are the KFC comms team!

Earlier this year, the franchise was forced to close about 900 branches across the UK. The statement from KFC said that its new delivery provider had ‘teething problems’ and that chicken products hadn’t been delivered to many of its restaurants. KFC fans and customers were very angry. In one well-publicised case, they were angry enough to contact the police which led the police to turn to social media to let KFC’s customers know that this was ‘not a police matter’. 

Very quickly KFC found itself at the centre of a huge media storm, fuelled by very frustrated customers venting their anger on social media. There was widespread coverage of its lack of chicken and subsequent store closures across the UK and in international media. Additionally, KFC was losing customers to other fast food outlets.

KFC knew it needed to react quickly to regain control of the story – but how?

The response the comms team came up was simple, bold and brilliant. 

Why is this great? Look no further than this advert. 

KFC paid for full-page advertisements in The Sun and Metro. The adverts featured an empty bucket saying FCK, rearranging the letters KFC with an apology. 

I can imagine it was a real challenge to gain senior management approval, but the positive responses received confirmed that the advert had really hit the spot. 

There is no doubt KFC’s approach was high-risk but it certainly very quickly changed the tone of the conversation about KFC running out of chicken.  Overnight the PR disaster was being hailed as a PR triumph with social media full of praise for their humorous response. it was good enough to get a vegetarian praise KFC for their apology and also made it to national online press such as BBC, the Sun and Yahoo. 

Without a doubt, KFC faced one of the biggest crises that a chicken restaurant could face but it turned it around brilliantly. KFC came up with a campaign that was impactful enough to have people forget about the original problem – chicken shortage – and instead had everyone talking about how hilarious the advertisement was.

KFC had two clear objectives. One, apologise to its customers. Two, make the apology the most memorable part of the story. 

KFC clearly said “sorry” and “thank you” multiple times in the advertised statement but it also did it by recognising its failures with humour: “A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal.”

Clearly, this was one of the best crisis management responses of 2018. KFC recovered the brand and reputation successfully and rapidly. The campaign was shortlisted for and won multiple PR and marketing awards. How about that for corporate communications?

Although this approach will clearly not be appropriate in every scenario, the key lesson I take from this is the need to always remember there is room to be creative.

Hats off to KFC’s creativity and originality.