Monday, April 6, 2009

Why did the chicken stop in the middle of the road?

To fix a pothole?

Last week, KFC launched a campaign addressed to city mayors offering to patch potholes for free. In return , the company wants to leave behind a chalk stenciled logo on the patch informing people the road has been "Re-Freshed by KFC."

"In honor of our "Fresh Tastes Best" campaign, we want to come and Re-"Fresh" your roads!" KFC president Roger Eaton says in the letter. "Every patched pothole comes with the Colonel's very own stamp of approval."

I’m all for corporate citizenship, but as a branding and marketing professional, this just feels wrong. This promotion runs counter-intuitive to supporting the brand promise of “fresh taste best” and feels like old-school self-serving corporate citizenry.

Let’s use the checklist I put together from Jay Heyman’s book (All You Need is A Good Idea) to see how this promotion fairs.(See book review below)

Could I understand the strategy? Yes

  • KFC wants to be a good corporate citizen by filling in potholes

Was the idea unexpected yet relevant?

  • Unexpected yes, relevant to the brand/product – no. Road works and fried chicken have zero in common

Did it have the power to make me smile?

  • No - this made me scratch my head

Does the promotion tie in with the brand promise?

  • No. Fresh taste and refresh the roads puts gravel in my mouth and smells of tar

Does the promotion help differentiate the brand from competitors?

  • yes – but not necessarily in a good way

Is the idea brand building & campaignable?

  • Absolutely not

Based on these answers, I would not recommend this promotion.

So here’s the question. If KFC were your client, what promotion would you recommend that would be more in keeping with their brand promise and would build awareness while doing good?

Here’s mine. Please share your ideas!

Get citizens involved in a “fresh thinking” campaign

Using a tool such as “A Better Project”, get people to submit and vote on ideas on how to “refresh” their city by providing grants to the best ideas. KFC would be able to create a groundswell of involvement that would not only build brand equity but be better aligned with their brand strategy.

In the end the winning idea might be to fill in potholes. The difference is in the how – by getting people involved in a new way that taps into a fresh approach of getting folks involved in supporting their city.

Share your idea.


  1. It made me think that maybe... just maybe, some of the chickens they serve are road kill. See? Road works and chicken DO have something in common... for KFC!

  2. Without regard to whatever current campaign they are running, KFC = "Finger, Licking, Good" to me. Those words reinforce their historic brand equity and deliver an emotionally resonant call to action. It actually makes my mouth water and want KFC - even though I know that there's a clear dissonance between my youthful memories of the brand and my adult sensibilities about healthy food. I know that there's always creative tension pushing marketers to reinvent, reinvent, reinvent, but sometimes - if a brand is lodged deeply enough in the public consciousness, it really doesn't make sense to do so.

    When I was a BM on Coca-Cola classic, I argued to revive the "it's the real thing" campaign of the 70's but with 90's "flavor". To me, it precisely and powerfully positioned Coke and tapped into a mother lode of positive equity created by the iconic brand. It was OK to bring the contour bottle back (albeit in PET not glass), but I think politics (chiefly, the 'not invented here-itis' of the agency and the drive for existing senior management to put their mark on the brand) that kept the 'real thing' buried. (Note: "Always" and then "Always & Only" and then "Always" part II were the enlightened choices of senior management at the time!) :-\

    That said, and agreeing that the "refreshed" notion is . . . well . . . lacking (much less off strategy), why not create a 'Finger Licking Good' promotion that is contemporary, arresting, and fun? Why not have people on street corners handing out little "wet wipe" packets with the words "Finger. Licking. Good."? That's it - no KFC branding, no colonel - nothing but those words. It delivers an awareness message in fun fashion. It adds a contemporary flair to the brand and brings KFC top of mind to anyone who has seen traditional KFC advertising. The wet wipes subtly reinforce the FLG positioning and have a functional benefit as well. It communicates the message that KFC is so good, that you will be licking your fingers during and after your KFC meal - and we want them to be clean. In my mind, when promotions or campaigns can deliver against brand positioning and strategy on multiple, supporting, levels - they tend to be more effective. Is having your brand in the middle of the street really a more compelling brand metaphor?

    Above and beyond all of this, the bigger win for KFC is to embrace a much more healthy stance with its menu. Chicken is great. Fried chicken is less than great. I think I remember them turning away from saturated fats - which is a good thing, but why not make "healthy" a much more integral part of their brand positioning? Americans are certainly becoming much more conscious of what we eat and there are far too few choices for healthy fast food. If they did this, where else could you get both a hot and healthy meal in the fast food universe?

    If not now, when? If not KFC, who? :-)

  3. Thanks Michael for your thoughtful response and sharing you experience at Coke.

    I agree with your suggestion that KFC needs a bigger and more meaningful win that builds equity and a greater purpose for their brand. They are stuck in their old-world paradigm. I would guess that in their consumer research "healthy" does not get their current consumer base excited. It would take strong and courageous leadership to get a large and powerful franchise organization such as theirs to both reposition the brand and change their operating model.

    McDonalds has been offering healthy alternatives for years - my sense is that it works more as a tactic to overcome the veto-vote with families or groups trying to find a menu to meet everyone's needs vs being a key driver for the individual.

    Healthy, good tasting and affordable fast food - it seems like such a "natural" - yet why does it not exist?

  4. I just wanted to say I enjoyed this post. I like the way you put a spin on the "fresh" idea. It would involve the community and eleminate the need to put your own logo over potholes. It's too bad that they didn't think of it.

  5. Shon: Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment both here and on "My Pet Chimp" :) I love your blog and will visit often. Some very cool and amusing posts.