Learning from KFC’s PR Crisis: Humor Can Go a Long Way

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Popular fast-food restaurant KFC recently encountered a somewhat disastrous problem when a shortage of chicken forced the company to close over 600 stores across the United Kingdom. Apparently, a logistical problem in the supply chain was responsible for the disruption, which meant that stores didn’t receive their chicken supply as usual.

The closures caused some dissatisfaction and anger across customers, with some even going so far as to call the authorities. However, as is often the case with a PR crisis, the way the company chose to respond to the event was what helped it to come out on top.

How KFC Got Ahead of the Issue

Otherwise known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, KFC chose to respond to the issue with a full-page advertisement in newspapers that showed a standard chicken bucket featuring the letters “FCK”. Essentially, they rearranged their brand letters to something a little more risqué to help describe the way they felt about the chicken shortage. After the picture, there was a brief apology following the simple statement “We’re Sorry”.

Though a little bit of crude humor won’t work for every company when PR issues strike, KFC shows that understanding your audience and knowing how to show humility can help to stop a problem from becoming a disaster. Instead of hiding its head in the sand, KFC demonstrated authentic humility and showed its customers that it understood their frustration.

Importantly, even though the brand’s logistics were to blame for the problem, and not the company itself, the organization didn’t try to shed blame and direct attention to the supplier. Instead, the company completely avoided any kind of finger-pointing.

The Lesson: Know Your Customers

If there’s a lesson to learn from the KFC crisis, it’s that humor can be a powerful way to laugh off a PR crisis — but only if it’s appropriate to the audience the company is appealing too. The KFC communications team decided to apply humor to the mix without being too offensive. Most brands should avoid comedy if they’re concerned that it might cause offense.

Importantly, as well as assessing the situation carefully to find out whether humor would be appropriate, the communications team were also careful to make sure that the messaging stayed on track with the rest of the brand’s image. The meaningful change to the brand’s logo was enough to earn attention from its audience, but it wasn’t such a huge change that it meant that consumers couldn’t associate it with the brand image.

Additionally, the company was also extremely humble with its followers, thanking its team members and franchise partners for all their hard work dealing with the difficult situation. At the same time, they also used this moment to remind customers that there’s very little that customer reps could do if the restaurant had no chicken supply.

KFC showed companies around the world what it takes to respond well to a PR solution with a little bit of clever humor and the right understanding of its audience. A PR disaster doesn’t have to be a nightmare.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO and Founder of 5W Public Relations.

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