What comes first, the chicken or the egg? For KFC, the unfortunate answer was neither… their chicken supply was as scarce as hen’s teeth.

On the 17th February 2018, KFC ran out of chicken. That’s right, you read that correctly – a chicken shop, that sells chicken, ran out of chicken.

Ridiculous? Yes. Funny? Perhaps just a little bit. Sure to damage their reputation? Almost certainly. Well that’s where we were all wrong. Whilst the media were squawking about the crisis, KFC didn’t get into a flap. The clever team behind their marketing and PR were busy hatching a plan.

The great chicken crisis of 2018: a brief timeline of events

17/02/2018, 4:27am: It all began with one fateful Tweet from the world-famous chicken restaurant: ‘The Colonel is working on it’. KFC had officially run out of chicken.

17/02/2018, 7:19am: Bromley didn’t come out of the crisis unscathed, the Make Me Local team were sad to discover.

19/02/2018, 9:57am: People really weren’t happy about it.

19/02/2018, 11:00am: There were tears.

19/02/2018, 11.56am: Even cats were getting upset.

20/02/2018, 6:10am: The police became involved.

20/02/2018, 8.50am: There was some light at the end of the tunnel…

How did KFC react?

Whilst customers vented their feelings on social media, KFC were busy behind the scenes, crafting a response that has ended up doing wonders for their reputation. How did KFC turn this around?

  1. KFC had the presence of mind to take out a full page ad in The Sun and Metro newspapers. It contained a humorous yet earnest apology, hilariously crowned by an image of an empty bargain bucket with the letters rearranged into FCK.
  2. Social media. #wheresmychicken was born. KFC harnessed the power of social media to tell customers what was going on by posting regular witty updates and replying to comments. Other topics also spread to social media – most people saw the FCK ad on Twitter and Facebook.
  3. Clever use of branding. The famous Colonel Sanders played his part in the delivery of the campaign. His name was used in the original Twitter announcement (The Colonel is working on it), and the FCK ad worked so well because of its exact replication of KFC’s branding.
  4. When it came to humour, KFC didn’t chicken out. And it worked. The FCK advert was so simple and to the point, it made people laugh and cut through the noise of other adverts. Twitter updates played on jokes about chickens crossing roads to deliver the message in a light-hearted way.

What can KFC teach us about marketing and publicity?

As businesspeople, the KFC story surely has elements we can all relate to – from time to time, things inevitably go wrong. But what’s important is that we know how to deal with situations and manage our customers’ expectations.

KFC’s use of media and marketing to get a hold on the situation was outstanding and is no doubt something that a lot of us aspire to as digital marketers. So what were the main ingredients that made the campaign such a success? (Clue: it wasn’t chicken).

  • Honesty. It always pays to be honest with customers – it’s a refreshing approach to take and people will appreciate it.
  • A sincere apology. KFC said sorry, and they meant it. Sometimes, that’s all a customer wants to hear.
  • Humour. The witty approach certainly helped diffuse the situation for KFC, and it made their ads memorable.
  • Regular updates. People like to be kept in the loop, and KFC’s updates on chicken deliveries and shop opening times helped alleviate irritation.
  • A multi-platform approach. KFC didn’t just rely on one form of media. Their campaign went viral on social media and it was shared far and wide.

Make Me Local’s copywriter, says: ‘The KFC campaign really shows what great content can do! KFC’s apology stood out because it balanced sincerity with humour. It made the brand feel more human, and made customers laugh at the same time.’

What’s the damage?

Even with the big dose of self-deprecating humour, you’d assume that this would have hurt KFC. But apparently not, if you take search demand as a proxy for customer interest.

KFC have done an extraordinary thing. They’ve not only turned around a brand crisis, but they’ve pretty much picked up where they left off before they hit the headlines. To their customers, it’s like it never happened!’

KFC made an undeniably great campaign out of what could have been a brand disaster. The chicken might have taken a rather long diversion when crossing the road, but it got there in the end. And KFC certainly have some good eggs in their marketing team.