Turning a PR nightmare into the greatest apology in the history of advertising
In 2018, KFC changed their logistics supplier and had a nationwide chicken shortage due to some processing error on the part of the new company. It led to over 400 outlets closing and a horde of abuse from angry, fried-chicken addicts.
In response, the company hired the famed agency Mother that proceeded to turn a PR crisis into the greatest apology in the history of advertising.
The ad was displayed on the pages of Metro and The Sun, prompting 700 press articles and TV discussions, and garnering a horde of awards, including a Cannes gold Lion in Print & Publishing and Grand Prix for Campaign of the Year at the Campaign New Thinking Awards.
The clever FCK slogan has been well document. In this micro-article, though, I explore the aspects of the campaign which we—marketers, brand owners—can apply when we find ourselves in a sticky situation and need to get people back onside.
If you can’t read that ^^ I’ve transcribed the copy here:
“A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal. Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who travelled 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.”
Honesty in a world of cover-ups
Today, we — the educated market of consumers — are increasingly weary of organisations that subtly cover up stuff or disingenuously use positioning tactics to make not-so-good stuff sound good.
More than ever, the market is responding to people being honest, even bluntly so. After all, we’re human. No one’s perfect. And besides, if we get too cocky about being, say, environmentally sustainable, we will always get caught out by some savvy consumer who, in a huff, will dig for days to find proof of hypocrisy.
So, despite what a defensive MD might say, it’s perfectly strategic to say something like: “Hey, we tried damn hard to source everything locally, but as it turns out no one in Western Australia grows papayas, so we got them shipped over from a farm in Queensland (the next best option). We thought about not using them, and then we thought, for us, a life without papayas is not worth living.”
No one can argue with that.
When we admit our flaws and say, “This is us, warts and all,” the people who appreciate us will often respect us more, and the fussy folk — the type who complain about coffees being two degrees too cold — no longer have the upper hand.
Now the copy
As stated, the FCK on the KFC bucket is a stroke of brilliance. But the body copy is the writings of a serious pro (a team of pros, probably) too.
Firstly, the copy doesn’t dwell on the problem, explain it, or make excuses. It explicitly states the fck up and, in turn, owns it. That’s important.
Then, the copy simply apologies to the customers (but not overly so (that’s important, too)) and, to put a positive spin on things, gives endless thanks to everyone who is fixing the problem.
Then, the copy reminds us of the brand’s humanity by using conversational turns of phrase like, “It’s been a hell of a week,” and proceeds to assure fans that chicken is being delivered (that’s all), reassuring the reader of KFC’s proactivity.
Pretty simply, of course. But it doesn’t fall into the PR trap of:
- Being over apologetic
- Explaining why it happened and, in turn, absolving responsibility
- Sounding defensive or robotic
- Not providing concrete details as to how they’re fixing things
- Overly negative
Instead the copy is:
- Clever and funny
- Filled with integrity and humanity
- Straight to the point
- Conversational, though without frills
If you’re anything like me, when explaining a fck up, we can tend to go on and on and on, boring everyone and convincing no one. The art is to be short and sweet, assure our audience that we see and hear them, and move on. And if you can get away with a bit of humour, like KFC, go for it.
- When we’ve fcked up, our best chance at preserving trust with our audience is by being the first to point out our shortcomings, remind our audience of our humanity, and talk about the actionable things we’re doing to fix it.
- Humour can get us out of the hole
- Don’t be over apologetic
- Seek to connect, not to defend a position
- Conversational copy is damn charming
- Powerful copy says a lot with little
- Storytelling is cool and super good for our business and stuff
Okay, that’s a wrap.
(Freelance copywriter for the food and drink industry| Owner of Brew Copy)