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Turn a Supply Chain Crisis Into a Clever Marketing Campaign?

done before you've finished your double espresso
How Do You Turn a Supply Chain Crisis Into a Clever Marketing Campaign?
Kentucky Fried Chicken

The story behind the #KFCCrisis

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade! An empowering motto to keep in mind when shit hits the fan, and you have to turn the situation into something positive. It might seem like an impossible challenge in some cases — just imagine a fast-food restaurant that sells fried chicken, completely running out of chicken.

This is exactly what happened to the UK branch of global fast-food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken, which ultimately resulted in the temporary closure of countless restaurants across the country. A bid in order to rebuild KFC’s tarnished reputation and reassure customers came in the form of a cheeky marketing campaign; FCK!

Launched in the face of a logistical nightmare, this campaign serves as a prime example of how overcoming challenges can lead to astounding results. Let's delve into the story behind the scenes, the hurdles faced, and the impressive result.

KFC's FCK! campaign title=

How do you deal with a supply chain crisis?

It all started in February 2018 when KFC UK had just switched delivery companies. A week into the job, the new delivery company started having operational issues, which were initially seen as “teething problems” by KFC’s UK headquarters. However, as more and more deliveries failed to show up, some restaurants and franchises across the country were forced to close their doors.

By now, the company realized they had a huge crisis on their hands and went into full survival mode. Most marketing campaigns were put on hold as there was no product to promote, but most team members were too busy handling countless customer complaints and media inquiries anyway. 

KFC locations across the UK were forced to close. title=

A third of the marketing team was redeployed to the distribution centers where a lot of extra hands were needed. But localized campaigns were not shut down completely. A few team members were tasked to keep switching them on when a location received delivery, and off for locations that hadn’t. After all, the chicken would go to waste if customers didn’t show up at all anymore.

When the executive decision was made to revert a third of all deliveries back to KFC’s former delivery company, the disruptions finally stabilized. But unfortunately, the damage had already been done. 

The #KFCCrisis hashtag went viral, and news outlets including BBC, CNN, USA Today and the New York Times covered the disaster. The London police even shared a tweet asking disgruntled customers to stop calling them about a situation that’s clearly not a police matter.

KFC UK was in dire need of a public relations lifeline to rebuild its damaged reputation. The answer came in the form of a full-page ad that raised a lot of eyebrows...

How do you use marketing to overcome a crisis?

Turning to their marketing agency, KFC’s brief for a much-needed media campaign was very clear. A public apology directed to customers and franchisers was necessary, owning their mistake, while being transparent about how the problems were being handled.

Not exactly an easy task for Mother London, the creative agency that had only been on KFC’s account for 11 months. Staying away from the typical, corporate TV apology that companies often go for, the team decided to take an unconventional, more creative approach.

Humility, humor, and honesty were the 3 Hs that inspired the bold idea they came up with; rearranging the KFC abbreviation into FCK. The obvious near-cuss word was meant to grab people’s attention, so they would read the apology that followed below written in a very casual and down-to-earth tone of voice.

FCK title=

Would the public perhaps perceive the campaign to be in bad taste, causing outrage on top of the existing crisis? The team was not that worried, feeling like Brits could definitely appreciate the wit and cleverness of it. Moreover, KFC would not be the first brand to use a similar wordplay. 

British fashion brand French Connection started using the FCUK abbreviation (which stands for French Connection United Kingdom) as early as 1997, courting fame and controversy with their T-shirts donning texts such as “FCUK FASHION” and “FCUK IT”.

The conscious decision was made for the campaign to be a full page print advertisement. The virality and reactions on social media would possibly detract from the sincere apology, while a print ad could hold the focus. Two newspapers, The Sun and Metro, were chosen to run the campaign.

The copy read:
We’re sorry. A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal. Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who traveled out of their way to find we were closed. And endless thanks to our KFC team members and our franchise partners for working tirelessly to improve the situation. It’s been a hell of a week, but we’re making progress, and every day more and more fresh chicken is being delivered to our restaurants. Thank you for bearing with us.

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The full-page ad as it was printed in The Sun and Metro newspapers on February 23, 2018. title=
The full-page ad as it was printed in The Sun and Metro newspapers on February 23, 2018.

How do you turn a crisis into an opportunity?

When the ad ran in the aforementioned newspapers on February 23rd 2018, it almost instantly overturned the PR nightmare. Covered by news outlets all over the world, countless articles came out praising the humor of the ad, while becoming a hot topic in TV discussions.

In the meantime, all KFC restaurants were able to resume operations with the full menu, and various data sources (such as YouGov BrandIndex) reported the chain had improved positive brand awareness since the campaign launch.

At the core of the FCK campaign's triumph lay its authenticity. The crisis was used as an opportunity to show vulnerability, realness and grit through humor. Instead of sweeping the supply chain crisis under the rug, KFC UK boldly confronted it head-on, without simply blaming the delivery company.

This approach resonated with consumers who appreciated the brand's transparency and honesty. What's more, the FCK ad scored one silver and three gold awards at the Cannes Lions Festival, plus the “Campaign of the Year” award at the Marketing New Thinking Awards of 2018.

Kentucky Fried Chicken title=

The FCK campaign by KFC UK will be remembered as a shining example of how to navigate and overcome challenges. By embracing authenticity, acknowledging their mistakes, and approaching the crisis with a touch of self-deprecating humor, KFC UK successfully rebuilt trust and loyalty among its customer base and achieved remarkable results.

This serves as a reminder that, with the right strategy and a genuine approach, even the most daunting hurdles can be transformed into opportunities for success.

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