Editorial: KFC blunders in 'health' ads

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Yum Brands' KFC last week introduced an ad campaign that is as laughable, and damaging, as any we can imagine or recall, and it should be pulled off the air immediately. In the long history of absurd, misleading and ludicrous ad claims, the campaign's positioning of KFC's breaded, fried chicken as a part of a healthy diet merits special derision. It damages the credibility not just of KFC but of the entire marketing industry.

Fast-feeders need to confront the obesity/diet issue, and most now do with at least some credibility. Burger King still sells the high-fat Whopper in a meal with fries and a Coke-but it also offers a low-fat grilled chicken sandwich with a side salad and bottled water. This makes sense, and, ultimately, the consumer can decide what items to order.

KFC's ads compare the fat and calories of two pieces of its fried chicken breast to a Whopper-yet still encourages people to wolf down chicken by the bucket. The new ads also focus on carbs and protein to play into that diet trend (while ignoring sodium and cholesterol). Fat content is mentioned, but only in comparison to other fatty foods.

"With more and more Americans on diets and increasingly health-conscious, we thought it was important to get this information to consumers," KFC marketing chief Scott Bergren said. While KFC's new agency, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, Chicago, shares in the blame, it's the client that's ultimately responsible. Veteran marketing consultant Jack Trout nailed it when he told AdAge.com last week that there is a whiff of "panic" in the new work.

KFC sales have been sliding, but telling its core customer group, lovers of fried chicken, not to feel "guilty" about enjoying KFC fried chicken (because, after all, they could be eating even less healthy fast food) disrespects those consumers and should earn KFC more scorn than profit. It should take the work off the air now and try a new approach.

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