646 out of 900 KFC outlets in the UK remained shut for several weeks. Before you think of the possible reasons behind this, I shall stop you right here. They ran out of chicken. That is it. That’s the reason. This happened back in February 2018 and is believed to have cost the chain a million pounds per day for which it remained closed. But, brand reputation and customer loyalty is the one thing that they did not lose. Thanks to the prompt crisis management.
This is where astute public relations crisis management enters. A PR team is hired to undertake the salvage operation once the company has committed an irreversible mistake capable of impairing its goodwill. This job demands magnificently quick wit, patience, and desirable humor. There is a fine line between sounding like a smug 19-year-old brat and being apologetic with a pinch of sass. Timing is another crucial aspect of crisis management. Releasing a clarification statement two weeks after the tumult has subsided is as useless as a pork sandwich at a Jewish family picnic. One cannot get away with the better late than never adage in this case.
Previously in this story, KFC had switched their delivery partners to DHL. DHL unlike the previous distributor that managed 9 warehouses, operated through a single warehouse. This means that if there is a slight blunder at this point in the supply chain, millions of people cannot eat their favorite KFC meal that afternoon. And so it did happen, except that people could not eat KFC chicken for several weeks at a stretch. Disappointingly, they had to visit Burger King for their fast food fix, as a disgruntled customer expressed in a viral video on social media. DHL, in its defense, said that an accident had taken place in the vicinity causing hours-long traffic jams. To exacerbate the crisis, the logistics software faced certain glitches leading to miscommunication.
The error had been made. It was time for the PR agency to fix it. They had the potential to make it or break it. Spoiler alert: they did make it. Consumers had worked themselves into a frenzy of rage. They were reporting their problem to the police which compelled the UK constabulary to tweet, “Please do not contact us about the #KFCCrisis – it is not a police matter if your favorite eatery is not serving the menu you desire.” Before this escalated, KFC came out to inform the public about this in the most hilarious way possible.
A case in point was KFC’s initial tweet that “The chicken crossed the road, just not to our restaurants” and captioning it that the Colonel is working on it. They owned up to their mistake and stated facts with no beating around the bush. They told everyone about their new delivery partners and teething problems. They expressed their concerns over maintaining the quality of food, hence the restaurants will either remain closed or service a limited menu. KFC humanized their brand through self-deprecating, thereby shooting up the relatable quotient to infinity.
The following morning, KFC put out a full-page ad apologizing for becoming a “chicken restaurant without chicken”. However, the wordplay done through rearranging the letters of KFC to FCK stole the show. I would not insult your knowledge on the subject by explaining this splendid play on words, more like play on letters. As pathetic was the supply chain management, the subsequent PR statements helped them bury the hatchet.
This statement hit two birds with one stone. Now the customers not only knew what was happening, thereby leaving no room for hearsay but also empathized with the brand at the same time. They continued to make the best out of this infamous waste. They went on to tweet that they had partnered with DHL on Valentine’s Day and Cupid’s arrow was not firing for them.
KFC’s PR agency did emerge as their knight in shining armor, however, DHL only cared enough to do the bare minimum. Unsurprisingly, DHL was mocked on twitter about its poor delivery services in the past.
There is one aspect that got shadowed because of the hilarious press releases. The daily wage employees at KFC have not compensated for days that the restaurant remained closed. They had to bear the brunt of it for no fault of theirs. This question remains unanswered to date. KFC successfully managed to divert our attention from this grave matter of concern & let the memes take the center stage.
This particular incident added KFC’s name to the list of brands that understand the value of humor on social media. Eventually, KFC started using humor marketing widely. To quote a recent example, KFC decided to temporarily drop their tagline “Finger licking good” to spread awareness about social distancing. This is nothing but a clever marketing campaign but with good intentions baked into it. The struggle to stay relevant, funny, and well-timed is real. There is no better way to realize the importance of public support. Now that people have started looking at these artificial persons as real human beings, or more so as companions, the brands must strive to live up to it.