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COVID-19 Experience: KFC Muddles Message

KFC has pulled an advertising campaign in the UK and Europe months after suspending the same campaign in the U.S., following a flurry of complaints about the multi-media effort’s inappropriateness in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis…

The commercial which raised the protests in the UK…
The Fried Chicken giant pulled a clearly inappropriate ad campaign in the U.S. back in March, as it became aware that the thematic thrust of the effort was not compatible with the then-young but surging COVID-19 pandemic. The problem? Nothing less than an attempt to play on the company’s original, iconic 64-year old slogan.

What happened?

In the U.S., someone quickly realized that an ad campaign featuring a montage, populated almost entirely by young people, of folks following the implied teaching of the KFC slogan: “It’s Finger Lickin’ Good!’ Not only does the TV spot show folks licking their own fingers, it also shows some licking other people’s fingers, while totally ignoring social distancing rules. And there’s not a single face mask in sight.

But the campaign apparently continued in the UK and other parts of the world until a few days ago, when the company folded in response to a flurry of complaints that its whole premise was incompatible with the current reality, in which enhanced hygiene, masking and distancing are universally recognised as the essential core elements of a successful anti-pandemic defense.

A confusing response

In a statement earlier this week, KFC Global headquarters tried to downplay the negatives of the situation but succeeded only in muddying the corporate message.

“[T]this year has been like no other and, right now, our slogan doesn’t feel quite right,” the statement admits. Yet it also insists the overblown ads were supposed to be an attempt at satire (?), “taking a moment to have a little fun.”

A quote from KFC’s Global Chief Marketing Officer, Catherine Tan-Gillespie attempts to clarify the company’s stance: “We find ourselves in a unique situation — having an iconic slogan that doesn’t quite fit in the current environment. While we are pausing the use of It’s Finger Lickin’ Good, rest assured the food craved by so many people around the world isn’t changing one bit.”


KFC says that, for the time being, it’s changing its advertising in the UK, the Netherlands, South Africa, Canada, parts of Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, to something that looks like this:

KFC COVID-19 Ad - © 2020 mashed.com

Leaving the media and the public almost as confused as they were before the statement was issued, KFC closes by assuring us that: “And for all those fans, don’t worry – the slogan will be back. Just when the time is right.”

My take

I’m left wondering if KFC is telling me that, in spite of the life-and-death nature of the COVID pandemic, it’s more concerned about its fan image. Of course, that doesn’t change my opinion of KFC’s products. I’ve always confessed that I’m a life-long KFC fan who – in spite of her best intentions –  sometimes has trouble holding herself to a self-imposed 6-week interval between ‘doses’. But now I’m wondering who is in charge of the 24,000-outlet global Chicken Empire, and what their priorities are…

~ Maggie J.