Originally published Feb 28, 2018.
Updated June 29: KFC’s stroke of genius was a big hit at the Cannes Lions—the brand’s crisis response for the ages was awarded Gold Lions in PR and Print. The ad was a huge hit because of its sincerity and cleverness,. but also because of the lightning-quick response time. “We knew it was very serious. So by that moment, when we locked ourselves in a room to coming up with it, was literally 24 hours,” said Hermeti Balarin, executive creative director at creative agency Mother London, which concocted the ad. Check out the interview below, which appeared in Adweek:
KFC proved that point in spades last week when product-delivery issues put the chain’s 900+ outlets in the UK in a tight spot—a chicken restaurant with no chicken, causing widespread closures of locations throughout Britain last week. With a large group of consumers raising a vocal ruckus, the company’s PR team surely had its backs to the wall.
While executives could have easily shrugged their shoulders and pointed fingers at distributor DHL for the shortfall, the team concocted a brilliant “play on letters” response with a full-page ad in last Friday’s London Evening Standard that many on social media are calling the “best apology ever.”
Along with the now iconic logo “letter shift,” the brand went on deliver the cornerstone of any successful crisis response—a heartfelt and genuine apology. “A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal,“ the message reads. “Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who travelled out of their way to find we were closed.”
The apology included a product-delivery update to help consumers plan their next visit. “It’s been a hell of a week, but we are making progress, and every day more and more fresh chicken is being delivered to our restaurants. Thank you for bearing with us.”
One PR pro went on to praise the brand’s response on Twitter as a “masterclass in PR crisis management,” Fortune reported.
No doubt the PR team was sweating it out awaiting consumer response to the ad, which was more than a little edgy. Inc. magazine points out that a risky response like this one has got to play out in an as unoffensive manner as possible, and the joke has to work. In both cases, KFC nailed it.
“This was a masterpiece in PR and I commend them for coming out with a strong image in message,“ said Fire Me, I Beg You marketing founder Robbie Abed, who contributed to the Inc. article. He added that one component of the response that made it such a success was the brand’s choice to address the problem head-on. “The best part about this ad is that they addressed the obvious right away,“ he writes. “That shows that they understand the irony of the situation and they are as embarrassed as you can imagine them to be.”
KFC also took the high road by apologizing to and thanking its own franchise partners and their employees, who were clearly not at fault but worked hard to find a solution. “This shows that KFC has goodwill to their team members who were affected by a bad supplier situation and are open to taking steps to fix the situation,“ Abed continued.
“It speaks to a business that understands that mistakes were made and they are prepared to have fun at their own expense,” said Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation PR expert Rupert Younger, commenting in a CNN report. “I think they are going to have more people wanting to go to KFC then less … as a result of this.”
And that alone is all a PR team can ask for in a crisis response. Well done, KFC!
Now that KFC’s letter-shift logo has taken on a life of its own, it’s bound to saturate traditional and social media—often with no mention of the brand in text captions. That’s precisely why brands need to add image monitoring to their comms tools arsenal.
See how image monitoring can help you go beyond text-only monitoring to get the full picture of coverage.