KFC is marking its return to business with a cheeky ad campaign celebrating fans’ mixed attempts at making fried chicken at home.
After closing all of its UK restaurants on 23 March due to the coronavirus pandemic, the brand plans to reopen 500 branches – about 50% of its stores – for delivery or takeaway by the end of this week. It aims to open additional locations in the coming weeks, in line with government advice.
KFC follows in the footsteps of fast-food chains including McDonald’s, Subway and Greggs that are gradually reopening as the UK lockdown eases. The government officially closed restaurants and pubs in March but they were allowed to prepare food for collection or delivery.
The new ad puts the spotlight on people who attempted to recreate KFC’s chicken recipe at home during lockdown. It uses real images of customers’ homemade efforts – some better than others – played out to a soundtrack of Celine Dion’s All By Myself.
At the end, KFC reassures viewers: "We’ll take it from here."
The work was created and produced in-house by Mother London, while Mindshare is the media agency. It will run across TV, video-on-demand and social media.
It signals a new era for KFC as "how we run restaurants fundamentally changes", Jack Hinchliffe, marketing director at KFC UK and Ireland, said. Since shuttering stores, the company has spent the past couple of months reconfiguring operations to ensure the safety and well-being of employees and customers during the pandemic.
On 4 April, KFC opened six restaurants to pilot new safety protocols that are now being rolled out across the business. It reduced the number of staff in kitchens, put in place a limited menu and tested drive-through service.
Change in marketing plans
KFC had to alter marketing plans as well. Days before the store closures, the brand paused its previous UK ad campaign featuring people licking their fingers, due to growing health concerns and consumer complaints. "We’re really proud of that work and we hope to be able to bring it back at some point in the future, but it felt like the most responsible thing to do from a business point of view was to pause," Hinchliffe explained.
The brand also reduced its traditional media spend and focused more of its efforts on social media. Starting in April, KFC staged a series of live culinary battles on Instagram to raise money for Comic Relief. The feuds featured celebrities and influencers, such as musical duo Chris Hughes and Kem Cetinay, attempting to cook their own fried chicken.
During lockdown, some KFC fans started a #RateMyKFC challenge on social media as they attempted to recreate the famous recipe. The brand jumped on this trend as a way to interact with customers, sharing and rating people’s culinary creations – sometimes harshly or with humour. "We said upfront we’d be more [Gordon] Ramsay than Mary Berry," Hinchliffe noted.
Garnering hundreds of tweets and an engagement rate of 101% over the past six weeks, #RateMyKFC was the inspiration for the new campaign.
"When we saw that some people went to the trouble of recreating packaging, that’s when we knew the love was real," Hermeti Balarin, partner at Mother, said.
The ad takes a humorous, tongue-in-cheek approach, which stands out amid the wave of sombre coronavirus-related marketing from other brands. "We were keen to put energy back into people's lives and deliver a practical message as well," Balarin added.
Hinchliffe said that while KFC’s marketing mission to be relevant and distinctive remains the same, the context in which it achieves that has changed significantly. The fast-food category has seen a massive rise in delivery and expectation for contactless deliveries, with safety becoming a dominant concern for customers.
"Most of our guests will be at home receiving delivery or going through drive-through lanes and they won’t see all the things we put in place to ensure that’s a safe food experience," he continued. "How you reassure them in a way that doesn’t seem alarmist is also really important and critical is doing that with a transparent, human voice."