A KFC poster and press ad that asked "What the cluck?!" has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for causing offence.
The work, which appeared at bus stations and in The Sun and Metro newspapers in September, and part of a broader campaign by Mother, prompted 40 complaints from members of the public who claimed its reference to an expletive was offensive and might be seen by children.
In its defence to the ad watchdog, the fried-chicken chain said it didn't agree that the word "cluck" was used as a substitute for a swear word. It instead claimed the word "cluck" was used as an onomatopoeic reference to the noise made by chicken. It also said it was unlikely that children would make any connection between "cluck" and the swear word.
Nonetheless, the ASA upheld the complaints and told KFC that the ads could not appear again in their current form.
"We considered people would interpret [the word 'cluck'] as alluding specifically to the expression 'What the fuck'," the ASA said in its ruling. "We considered that 'fuck' was a word so likely to offend that it should not generally be used or alluded to in advertising, regardless of whether the ad was featured in a newspaper which had an adult target audience."
It is not the first time KFC has alluded to a swear word in advertising. The ASA received 13 complaints about KFC's famed "FCK" print ad, which it released in 2018 following a national logistics issue that saw hundreds of restaurants closed.
In that instance, the ASA didn't investigate. The regulator told Campaign that this was because it considered that, although some may have considered the reference to profanity in poor taste, the execution was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence given the context in which it was used.
A KFC spokesperson said of the latest decision: "We’re disappointed but respect the ASA’s ruling. That wording’s been removed and we won’t be using it again."