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Lay Off the Fried (Uhm, Grilled) Chicken: KFC Campaign a Success?

July 20, 2009

The Yum CEO (Parent company of KFC) stated that the grilled chicken fiasco was  a success in an article that ran this week.  According to Brandweek, “Parent company Yum’s second quarter earnings, announced today, showed KFC sales went from a negative 7 percent in the first quarter to a positive 3 percent in the second quarter. Yum CEO David Novak called the launch the most successful in KFC’s history and added that the item now accounts for 40 percent of KFC’s chicken-on-the-bone sales. “

98396-KentuckyGrilled_largeMan, you need to lay off all that fried chicken you’re obviously eating.

Brand success is not all about the money. It’s about consumer perception, and well, you kind of let everyone down when you became an Indian giftgiver of grilled chicken. The world is all about diets nowadays – and you just took it away from consumers. Plus, who doesn’t love getting free food?

To me, that’s not success. All of the blogs and Twitter posts about how people felt about your publicity stunt threw a mid-size bomb into your brand’s perception.  Many probably wanted to try out the chicken –

Does Yum understand branding?

Also in the article, this was stated: “It created a demand, a buzz and a lot of free press. It gave a lot of people a reason to try it.”

Please repeat after me: Just because it’s free press doesn’t mean thats a good thing. The whole ‘Press is press’ mentality drives me crazy. Now, the advertising on Oprah -great idea. But it can’t be a great idea if you can’t follow through. You need to have a strategy and be prepared. Planning is something that every PR person should know – and also know that branding is never just about the dollar signs.

What do you think? Was the KFC campaign a success?

*Picture taken from Brandweek article and a copyright of Yum and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2009 8:51 am

    A big part of managing a campaign is preparing for the two “extremes:” Best Case Scenario and Worst Case Scenario.

    Unfortunately, in this situation, the Best turned into the Worst, as many people weren’t able to redeem their coupons.

    I’m not a big eater of fast food, but the launch got me to consider going to KFC. I still haven’t, since I would be too tempted to say “Screw Grilled…gimme Extra Crispy! NOW!”

    Extending product lines is critical for fast food restaurants. McDonald’s now has the McCafe, along with a host of salads that weren’t on the menu 15 years ago. Dairy Queen has more than just dairy products. You get the picture.

    But for me, KFC will ALWAYS mean the greasy, crispy, crunchy bad-for-you chicken. And corn on the cob. And potato wedges. You get the picture.

  2. July 20, 2009 8:55 am

    The point you made, Mike – “I’m not a big eater of fast food, but the launch got me to consider going to KFC…”

    It makes me wonder if others feel that way, and if it maybe was a success. I’m just not in the mindset of negative publicity working in favor. I think it would turn off loyal customers, and that having grilled chicken on the menu messes with brand perception as well.

    Great points all around – and definitely played into their success or failure.

  3. July 20, 2009 8:57 am

    Thanks. Another point to consider: “Not as bad for you” isn’t anywhere NEAR the same as “Healthy option.”

  4. July 20, 2009 9:10 am

    Every time I hear ‘any press is good press’ it DRIVES ME NUTS! Tell that to the multitude of people who have been on the ‘wrong end’ of bad press (i.e. David Letterman, Sarah Palin, MichaelPhelps, etc.) – we could go on for DAYS with this list.

    HOWEVER, when you initiate with GREAT PR,the likelihood of accomplishing POSITIVE results/press is increased. Not b/c of anything but things like
    * strategy
    * understanding
    * process
    * passion

    So, when you get bad press for a knucklehead move, you get slammed for it – in your company’s reputation, bottom line and brand.

  5. July 20, 2009 9:12 am

    There’s a difference between a campaign that generates a little controversy and one that is just “negative publicity.” Negative publicity is not going to help your brand or encourage long-term success for your business. But something that has a little bit of controversy to it and gets people thinking/talking about an issue may.

    • July 20, 2009 9:15 am

      Thanks for reading, K. That’s an interesting point about ‘negative publicity’ and ‘controversy.’ Mike pointed out that it got him thinking about it, but I’m not sure if it will have a positive effect in the long run. For me, the trust factor would be broken if I was a loyal customer.

      N – I’m with you on that statement driving me nuts. The points you put that generate positive press are accurate and right on the nose – and it makes me wonder if the company took those thoughts into account.

      Reputation > Money in the long run.

  6. July 20, 2009 9:29 am

    From a business perspective, the company went from -7% in YOY revenues for the quarter to +3%.

    Yes, they did have a little snafu with Oprah and availability of the grilled chicken at launch, but that appears to have been worked out now. It created a backlash when it happened, but it seems that didn’t have a long-term effect. The grilled product now accounts for 40 percent of sales in the category less than 6 months after launch – that’s pretty impressive.

    There are certainly aspects of the PR campaign that could have been handled better and planned for better. But we communicators have to remember that success needs to be measured in dollars (especially for a public company like Yum). We can’t recalibrate metrics to something we’re more comfortable with (like engagement or conversations or perceptions) because while those things are important, they don’t necessarily have a direct, measureable, FINANCIAL impact on a company.

    Clearly this product is delivering in terms of financial impact. People seem to have forgotten about the firestorm that happened for a few days regarding the launch (or never heard about it in the first place), and they’re buying grilled chicken.

    You can have “brand success” in terms of customer perception where everyone loves the brand and respects it, but if no one’s buying it, then is it really a success?

  7. July 20, 2009 9:36 am

    Amy – I was really hoping that you would comment on this. You have a great grasp on the business world, which is something I’m trying to constantly learn – especially when it comes to the financial aspect.

    I think as PR pros (and me especially) forget at times that it is a business. Money should play a role.

    I really tried to evaluate this from a brand perception point – and I wonder if it is too soon to judge the financials of a brand new product. What do you think?

  8. Rich Pulvino permalink
    July 20, 2009 9:42 am

    Hi Lauren,

    Like Mike, I am not a big consumer of fast-food and have only been to KFC no more than twice in my life. My experience with new products like the grilled chicken is that there is always a lot of buzz created, both positive and negative. Among my group of friends, we thought it looked disgusting, yet we were still intrigued to try it eventually.

    So even though our thoughts were initially negative, we still wanted to purchase the product. If a lot of other people had this mindset, then it is no surprise that sales increased, but that does not make this campaign a success. The real question is, can KFC continue to experience increased sales? If they can, then the campaign may be considered a success. One quarter of increased sales doesn’t tell too detailed of a story.



    P.S. I still have not tried the grilled chicken, and my friends who have give a mix of reviews.

  9. July 20, 2009 9:53 am

    I don’t know what kind of sales cycle Yum/KFC operates on, but I don’t think it’s too soon to evaluate financials for the product. I think if it wasn’t doing well, they’d pull it. But I’ll also be interested to see what the financials look like in 6, 12, 18 months from now – when the buzz of the product’s “newness” wears off. Many people may be trying it right now just because it’s new.

    What will be key for the brand is to continue to keep consumers interested in the grilled product and maintain the interest and curiousity about it so that it will continue to drive sales. Hopefully KFC will do this via methods that are a little more well-planned and constructive than their initial brand launch.

  10. July 20, 2009 9:59 am

    People love KFC. This was never in any real doubt. What was in doubt was the perceived healthiness of eating at said KFC.

    With the addition of a “healthy” option at KFC and a robust marketing campaign market share was able to be recaptured. Affordability of the food offering may have also played a role here.

  11. July 20, 2009 10:03 am

    Amy – I liked your comment about the “newness” wearing off – and its definitely something that Yum should consider. The sales cycle definitely played a role as well, and I’m curious to see what kind the operate on.

    Stuart – Right on about the healthy option. I think with how diet fads go these days, and affordability, played a role.

    However, was the actual campaign a success, or did they just get lucky? Did the lose any customers? We might never know.

  12. jaykeith permalink
    July 20, 2009 10:20 am

    I hate to be the one to say “the numbers don’t lie” but to Amy’s point, the sales of the new product are running at 40%. The company also said that KFC saw a 30-point swing in same-store sales growth vs. Kentucky Grilled Chicken pre-launch comps during their earnings announcement. Those are big numbers for a stale brand, by some accounts.

    And if you think about how most people are going to remember this story a year from now, it won’t be “KFC screwed their customers” it’ll be “remember that so many people wanted it they literally ran out and had to turn people away?” Or they’ll talk about just how much of an influencer Oprah is when it comes to products and their success/failure. I don’t think that KFC’s long term brand image is going to take much of a hit for having a successful product. Yes, they probably should have and could have executed better and anticipated a greater demand, but in the long run this isn’t something that they will get killed for. They’ll end up working something out with those customers that were turned away, and that will be the end of it. And in some cases, any press IS good press, as much as some hate the term.

    I think that because for the most part people love the product and KFC is getting much needed (and no, it’s not altogether free) exposure, they can view this on the whole as a win. They wanted to roll out a new product and have it be home run, and get some exposure for it at the same time. The numbers don’t lie, that’s what this was I think.

  13. July 20, 2009 10:24 am

    Rich – I think many had that perception, but when it comes to measurement, I wonder if that sentiment had any impact on their “gauge” of success. I’m a big believer that hard numbers isnt the only thing that relates to success, even if its one of the only measurable things.

  14. July 20, 2009 10:29 am

    J – Thanks for responding. As I said to Amy, I really didn’t evaluate this from a hard numbers standpoint – because I’ve never been a big advocate as that being the only factor in a campaign’s success. A big part of that is because I’m big on perception – and really think that logical, hard numbers can sometimes not tell the whole story.

    I’m not a big fan of KFC, but I know many of my friends that tried it.

    I think that the perception of any press is good press is lame because if you see your name, it’s not automatically good. It’s not automatically bad either. But its the content and perception that make it a good thing.

    Sometimes, we have to mesh our PR brains with a biz minded brain, especially when measuring a campaigns success.

    Great points. Thanks!

  15. jaykeith permalink
    July 20, 2009 11:15 am


    As a PR pro, I can see you being big on perception, because that’s what we’re all about really. But oftentimes with large companies (especially bigger brands) one of the things you have to reconcile is the overall dollar benefit of campaigns vs. the PR/brand fallout. Sometimes the money talks, and influences the decisions more than you would imagine. All part of the risk/reward of different campaigns in the world of marketing, PR and advertising. And brand always has to be kept in mind, but without the $$$, you don’t have a brand to protect in the first place. It’s a very fine line to walk (you love these fine line topics =), which is why the blog is great)

    As an example, if KFC had gotten great reviews and nothing but positive press about the new grilled chicken product, but didn’t do the Oprah push, do you think that it would now be accounting for 40% of sales? It’s possible, but I think unlikely. This stunt brought the product to a national level (controversial or not) and into the public mindset. That drove real numbers and real sales (as well as some public fallout), so in the end, what was the better avenue to take? The conservative one with the positive perception and little brand risk, or the one that they took? A great debate that you’ve initiated here, but I think that the execs at KFC would tell you that they were very happy with the overall exposure and money that was driven. Oftentimes the money is the tipping point to risky decisions.

    And this is why we love to talk about these types of campaigns so much. If everyone were conservative, no one would stand out. And then sadly, we’d have nothing to scrutinize!

  16. July 20, 2009 11:29 am

    It makes me wonder if different brands value different things. I know that capitalism wouldn’t work if the brands didn’t care about money – but they also have to consider loyalty. And what about those brands that might not have as big of a budget? They can still be considered big name, especially if they have a cult following.

    Oprah had a big part in this, whether the company wants to admit it or not. The target audience would love the idea of grilled chicken – and are probably not loyal customers. I have seen recently that many companies are focusing on gaining new customers and forgetting the loyal ones (think AT&T and the new iPhone prices) which shouldn’t be.

    You’ve got me thinking, though!

  17. July 20, 2009 12:10 pm

    Wow – interesting thoughts here. One thought on the “numbers don’t lie” discussion. Sometimes a burst of sales isn’t worth it if it erodes the brand. A while back luxury retailers like Tiffany and Burberry did a big push of less expensive products to reach more people and generate more revenue but then later pulled back those efforts because they feared that the quantity of the merchandise on the market (and the number of teens wearing them) was diluting the brand.

    I’m not saying this applies to KFC (fast food is not luxury jewelry) but its something to think about in a broader context.

  18. July 20, 2009 12:14 pm

    Oh, and another thought. I wonder what the change in market share for KFC has been?

    Does anyone think that maybe, because of the economy, more people are eating fast food instead of at restaurants? A “healthier” fastfood option might appeal to that market.

    If that’s the case, it would be interesting how many of these new customers KFC is getting vs. its competitors.

  19. July 20, 2009 2:20 pm

    The first problem I had with this was simply FINDING a KFC within 20 miles of where I live, easier said than done since, as it was, most of them had closed down. Second, once I did find one, the coupon was seen as invalid. Overall it did create a buzz, so if you are a believer that all PR is good PR, then it was a success – but in my opinion, it was nothing more than a flash in the pan, the grilled chicken ‘craze’ came and went.

  20. Lauren Fernandez permalink*
    July 20, 2009 2:29 pm

    Matt – That is definitely a reason I did not consider the campaign a PR success. I think that a lot of the time, when it comes to companies that sell a product for profit, they are quick to cut the comm dept because they don’t realize the value in brand perception or positive promotion. They believe the numbers will generate the positive press – not always so.


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