Who says you can’t make lemons into PR lemonade? That’s precisely what the UK unit of fast-food chain KFC managed after an embarrassing shortage of a pretty important ingredient in its prepared meals – that’s right, chicken. Due to a change in suppliers, KFC was somehow unable to procure birds in the UK, forcing it to temporarily close most of its 900 restaurants in England and Ireland.
Of course, customers squawked, and media had fun with endless poultry jokes and mocking tweets. It’s not the worst reputation crisis that can happen to a food chain (just ask Chipotle), but for a chicken restaurant to run out of chicken not only opens the door to competitors, but it makes management look incompetent. And who wants to eat at a place run by incompetents?
To its credit, KFC adopted an apologetic but cheeky tone (dare I say cocky?) in its response to the mini-crisis. To soothe ruffled feathers, it posted notes on the doors of the shuttered restaurants explaining the dilemma in a lighthearted way, writing that “The chicken crossed the road, just not to our restaurants,” and apologizing for “teething problems” with a new partner. It also put up a webpage so UK customers could access updates about stores in their areas.
Then, over the weekend, KFC cooked up a masterful ad that ran in two UK daily newspapers. Created by ad agency Mother, it’s extraordinary for a few reasons. First, when is the last time you saw a major brand scramble its own logo? That doesn’t happen, but in this case the “FCK” headline is exactly what makes the ad work. It delivers as an apology to customers and franchise owners, a public expression of frustration, and a show of brand personality. It reminds us of other brands that have, through creativity and quick decision-making, managed to turn bad publicity into good PR.
Observers are clucking once again about KFC, but this time because of its timely and truly funny response to a business and reputation setback. Well done, KFC.