In 2018 KFC had a major problem. People didn’t like their fries and had started using social media to shout about it. Now, when it comes to fried chicken, the Colonel rules the roost. KFC has over 24,000 branches in 150 countries. It’s the fourth biggest fast food chain in the world after McDonald’s, Subway and Starbucks. But they’ve had their fair share of criticism, particularly in recent years; social media has made it all too easy for customers to leave very honest feedback. And, as we all know, just a drop of negativity can quickly snowball, making your brand suddenly very uncool.
The key tweet (sic: it was 2018) from a Norwich-based D&B producer called @upgrade_music read:
Brutal. But rather than weep into their buckets, they changed the product and used the tweet as the core of a very clever marketing campaign. They broadcast everywhere from magazines to billboards to their social channels that Twitter feedback had led them to overhaul their fries. The results were massive: on Twitter alone they generated 500K interactions when they embedded the tweet as part of the announcement.
All this is old news, of course, it happened five years ago. But KFC is at it again. Autumn 2023 brought a multi-platform campaign proclaiming their new fries are "finally f****ing good", merging a tongue-in-cheek play on their legacy slogan with that self-deprecating admission of failures past. Their X/Twitter account kicked things off in late September:
This tweet was followed by the introduction of #NewKFCFries in early October. Their ‘Admin’ character features on all of KFC’s UK and Ireland social accounts and leads the tone this time round. Admin is always on the side of the people, giving away codes for free food, replying to complaints about the old fries with the suggestion that they ‘might get fired for liking this’ and revelling in the ‘power’ of changing the fries based on customer feedback. The messaging on Instagram and TikTok was in the same vein, and the billboards and print ads that followed a month on remind carb addicts that their next meal needs to come from KFC.
So what can we learn from KFC?
Social listening is at the core of these campaigns. They prove that KFC is using social media as a way to join conversations rather than shouting announcements into the digital void or worse, ignoring their customers. The reaction is humble, too, helped out by ‘Admin’ and their middle-man positioning. By admitting their mistakes this absolutely giant brand has made themselves seem like the underdog, and that's a very flattering angle.
Expert guidance makes all the difference. KFC worked with media agency Blue 449, creative agency Mother, API partner Adaptly and actual Twitter (now X) on the original campaign. All publicity may be good publicity but, as we all know, social media is the wild west of UGC: brands are more likely to battle an army of trolls than gather cheerful superfans. With the right advice, and by learning from high profile case studies like this one, it’s possible to redirect online conversations that aren’t going the way you’d hope.
Online communities are your secret weapon. It was an all-inclusive conversation: the lovers, the haters, the fence-sitters… suddenly anybody who eats potatoes wanted to try the new fries. People love to pass judgement, especially on the internet, and announcing that your own product is suddenly unmissable is great bait. Ordinarily this could be very dangerous indeed, but when all the previous UGC is that the fries can get in the bin, even a little bit of positivity is a win (especially when it means you can share it far and wide).
In conclusion, even the most negative feedback can be turned on its head as long as you listen, react and respond thoughtfully (and with a sense of humour if your brand guidelines can handle it). Keep your eyes on KFC this Christmas though, because their next trick is even more interesting. Their festive TV ad (again, made by creative agency Mother) shares their customers’ repeated requests that they fry up turkey rather than chicken on Christmas Day… and announces that they’ll be ignoring them. Hopefully their followers will see the funny side and go in for the Stuffing Stacker chicken burger instead. With a side of those new signature fries everyone’s talking about.