Crisis Comms Management – Why KFC’s Apology Worked

Author:
08.03.2018

We’re not the first to praise KFC for its crisis communications after its infamous chicken shortage ruffled a few feathers. In the world of PR this was pretty Oscar worthy and definitely one you’ll be telling the grandkids.

 

 

They produced a print ad that went viral, social media content that engaged consumers (and beefed with Burger King), and a microsite for up to date store openings. It’s the kind of integrated marketing approach us agencies love, but ideally under better circumstances i.e. not in a PR crisis.

However, it looks to be a pretty successful campaign in terms of the positive response and quick turnaround. Plus, they say scarcity increases demand. It’s basic psychology (well, it worked on me).

Not only that, but the KFC response and resulting conversation also managed to quash most of the buzz around their biggest competitor’s latest offering – the 50 year anniversary of the Big Mac and the launch of the Grand Mac.

Here’s why we think the campaign has been so successful…

They simply said “I’m Sorry”

 

 

It seems pretty obvious to point out, but those words make a big difference. They are much more powerful than any “a big mistake was made” that we often hear from celebrities, sports stars, and politicians.

The phrase actually expresses remorse and regret, unlike everyone’s favourite non-apology apology “I’m sorry if any offence was caused” loved by slick MPs and racist comedians.

As KFC has proven, sometimes just saying “We’re Sorry” or “I’m Sorry” is enough.

Give the phrase some space, some room for people to reflect. Any words that follow this phrase have to be well considered and well composed.

They expressed empathy

 

 

As well as the reluctance to say sorry, many often struggle to express empathy too. You don’t need to go on a conflict management course or read How to Win Friends and Influence People to realise that simply acknowledging what people have gone through will really, really help.

This is exactly what KFC did in the ad when they say “Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who have travelled out of their way to find we were closed.”

It isn’t the end of the world if there’s no chicken, of course. It’s only mildly inconvenient at worst (especially for those who have had to go to Burger King) but KFC still acknowledged consumers’ disappointment.

KFC also chose not to blame their new supplier DHL either. They explained the issue with the deliciously vague phrase “teething problems”, which playfully gets the message across without belittling their new partners either, which is a pretty shrewd corporate move.

Like their food, they made it fast

Campaigns like this might seem simple, but they don’t happen overnight. Or, not often. Not only is there the development of a creative concept, design and copy (which is more than just brainstorming and scribbling), but there’s also media buying, developing the social media campaign and microsite.

 

 

After KFC outlets started closing on the Sunday they released the print ad and website pretty much by the Friday, five days later, which for an integrated print, social and digital campaign is pretty fast.

They were open and appropriate

A comment by an executive on a national radio station may have been quicker to organise but wouldn’t have been anywhere near as effective, or fitting for a brand fronted by a fictional colonel.

 

 

By taking a humorous and self-deprecating approach they confronted the issue directly, forcing anyone complaining to look a bit silly.

Well, this is an option for any brands out there dealing with a PR crisis. A quick Google search will reveal so many brands we know and love have experienced some scandal at some point, with time being a great healer.

But when brands are in the limelight it can be an opportunity to turn things around and create some greater awareness. I mean, did you know before this that KFC actually used daily deliveries of fresh chicken rather than cheap frozen stuff?

That sounds like something that’s finger lickin’ good.