Do the Chicken Dance for KFC? NFL Doesn't Think So

'Hot Wings' Promo Could Fall Flat If No NFL Players Participate

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- KFC Corp. has cooked up a tasty bit of ambush marketing for the Super Bowl, but what if the players turn out to be too chicken to play along?
KFC hopes a player or entertainer performs the chicken dance at this year's Super Bowl.
KFC hopes a player or entertainer performs the chicken dance at this year's Super Bowl.

The Louisville, Ky.-based chicken chain on Jan. 17 said it would make a charitable donation of $260,000 to "Colonel's Scholars" in the name of the first player or entertainment performer who does the wing-flapping part of the wedding perennial "chicken dance" for three seconds in the end zone.

The campaign is designed to promote KFC's hot wings. KFC spokesman Rick Maynard said a plan is in place for postgame ads should a player or performer "flap their hot wings" for at least three seconds, though he did not provide further detail.

A move to integrate into the game
"KFC has a reputation for being an innovative marketer," Mr. Maynard said in an e-mail. "This is an effort to be the first company to actually integrate its brand into the game itself -- not pre-game, not post-game, and not during commercial breaks, but during the actual competition on the field."

The news did not particularly amuse the National Football League or its teams when they learned of the stunt. "We don't think much of it," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said late last week. "It's ambush marketing, trying to affiliate yourself with the biggest sporting event."

According to people close to the matter, the NFL has warned players they could be fined if they do the dance, and Mr. Maynard said no players have contacted KFC -- which isn't a sponsor for the league or the teams -- about the promotion as of Jan. 29.

The $260,000 donation figure was determined after carving out three seconds of a 30-second spot, which costs companies an average $2.67 million to buy on Fox's telecast this year. Another part of the promotion featured a website, Show Us Your Hot Wings, where 16 fans submitted their own versions of the chicken dance.

"We haven't heard from the NFL," Mr. Maynard reported, "and we are committed to being respectful of the property and rights of others. We would never intentionally ruffle any feathers."

Counting on pre-game buzz
To be sure, KFC is counting on the pre-game buzz this promotion generates in the hopes that fans will think of their brand when they see a player or performer flapping his "hot wings." But even if the players don't, the chicken chain has little to lose with this effort.

Taco Bell similarly used the 2007 World Series to promote free tacos to anyone who visited the restaurant (on a certain day during specific hours) if any player stole a base during the series. While the taco chain used something that was likely to happen in the course of a game, KFC is asking players to actively do something that doesn't have anything to do with the game -- unless you count an end-zone dance as part of the game. Major League Baseball fully supported -- and even promoted -- Taco Bell's idea. The NFL, meanwhile, could not want to distance itself further from KFC.

The teams on the gridiron for Sunday's game, the New England Patriots and New York Giants, it should be noted, are known to be veteran-laden, tight-lipped and, for the most part, the epitomes of professionalism.

Very optimistic
KFC would not address how likely it is that this promotion will be successful, and what would happen if it's not. Mr. Maynard simply said, "We are very optimistic that at least one player or performer will 'show us his hot wings.'"

Mr. McCarthy said the NFL would not contact KFC, because they are not infringing on any league rights. In the end, he dismissed it as a not-so-novel approach to share the spotlight on the world's biggest stage.

"The Super Bowl has become an unofficial holiday and people try to associate themselves [with it]," Mr. McCarthy said. "This is nothing special [and] we haven't thought much about it, to be honest."
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