Did KFC save its own skin?

Our BrandVue tracker showed how the chicken shortage affected consumer perception for the Colonel.

Caroline Jameson & Sam Ashby

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April 23, 2018

The not-so-secret ingredient in KFC’s successful recipe is, you guessed it, chicken. So, when a DHL delivery “hiccup” caused a chicken meat scarcity and forced 650 of 900 KFC stores across the UK and Ireland to close, the Colonel was left with a fowl-up on his hands. 

The shortage caused customers to go into meltdown, resulting in a chain reaction of rather tongue-in-cheek outrage across social media. The police even felt the need to tweet, requesting “people to stop contacting them regarding the #KFCCrisis”. Eventually, stores were reopened, and KFC got back to business as usual. Soon after, the brands’ marketing team decided to jump on the bandwagon and hatched a humorous and nearly "fowl-mouthed" apology as a full-page advert in national newspapers. 

It is clear KFC has hedged its bets on light-hearted self-mockery being the most effective way to boost its image after a marketing crisis. Think Greggs offering meals for two on Valentine’s Day after dressing up baby Jesus as a sausage roll. But has it worked? And after the media storm, could the crisis have boosted the brand’s reputation, rather than harmed it? 

Morar HPI’s BrandVue Eating Out tracker, a daily survey of the top 150 UK eating out brands featuring 8,000 interviews a month, was the perfect source to understand this, and the crisis has certainly ruffled some feathers. Notably, KFC’s negative buzz increased to a whopping 56% at its peak – nearly two out of three people had heard something negative about the brand, compared with one in six prior to the chicken shortage. Positive buzz plummeted by more than half – from 30% to 14%. Nonetheless, the metric has started to creep back up in the past two weeks, rising to 20% presently. This is in tandem with the gradual decline in negative buzz over the same period. 

The indications are all news is good news. A total of 72% of people said the chicken shortage had not changed their perception of the brand, with a further 4% perceiving KFC in a more positive light. That’s more than three-quarters of people who think nothing less of KFC – yet might now have them at the forefront of their mind next time they go to order their fry-day treat. To back this up, seven in ten people said if they hadn’t been to a KFC before, they would now. What crisis, I hear you say?  

Some are calling this a “masterclass in PR crisis management”. The crisis was only issues with the supply chain, not food quality or the poor treatment of staff, which would have been more damaging long-term. But crucially, they didn’t roll-out a tasteless, out-of-touch advert – they took a risk and it seems to have paid off. 

Tongue-in-cheek marketing is becoming increasingly popular and KFC’s reaction to its recent crisis added to the growing portfolio of self-mocking advertisements. The crisis itself was easy to resolve but KFC’s media message is what turned a damaging negative into a positive. It didn’t harm or offend anyone bar the company itself. KFC held its hands up. The evidence shows this was a smart move – short-term crises can be resolved with humour, humility and self-deprecation. Nice save, Colonel. 

Morar HPI Limited is part of MIG Global and part of the Next15 Group.

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