KFC Could Learn Something About Itself and Marketing if It Listened to Consumers

Instead of Keeping Up a Decade of Phoniness, Why Not Try a Little Honesty?

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Bob Garfield
Bob Garfield
"To thine own self be true." -- Polonius

"I yam what I yam." -- Popeye

"Be yourself." -- Graham Nash, Hawkwind, Morcheeba, Enrique Iglesias, Audioslave and Mister Rogers

The concept shouldn't be too difficult to grasp. Don't pose. Don't fake. Don't put on airs. Don't try to be something you're not. For starters, it's dishonest -- not to mention embarrassing for everybody concerned. Whether it's Vanilla Ice faking 'hood cred, the Salahis pretending to be dinner guests to sneak into the White House or John McCain veering far right (to do the same thing), the result is always equal parts infuriating and heartbreaking.

Because that sort of dishonesty is just so pathetic.

Yet, for some, the pathos is truly pathological, a sick compulsion to continually present themselves as something they aren't. One famous poseur was Ferdinand Demara, the serial phony immortalized in the movie "The Great Imposter." Another was Frank Abagnale Jr., the serial phony immortalized in the movie "Catch Me if You Can."

Another is Kentucky Fried Chicken, the serial phony immortalized in some of the most stunningly dishonest marketing efforts of the past 10 years. First it tried to foist "deep fried" as "slow-cooked." Then, in what at the time seemed like the lowest of the low, it positioned its menu as health food. Here's how (then) Federal Trade Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour put it in announcing FTC action against the chain:

"KFC ... is fully aware of our nation's struggle with obesity, yet has cynically attempted to exploit a massive health problem through deceptive advertising. Companies should not be allowed to benefit monetarily from this kind of deception, especially where the health and safety of consumers are compromised."

This was on the occasion of KFC swearing off any explicit health claim in connection with its fat-and-sodium-larded menu. Key word: "explicit." The chain's latest outrage is a promotion with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, in which 50 cents is donated to the foundation for every special pink bucket of chicken purchased -- that is, for every 20 grams of sodium, every 2,500 calories, every 120 grams of fat in KFC's smallest pail.

Whoa. How low can you go? Commissioner Harbour and her colleagues simply didn't anticipate how cynical "cynical" can be. Absent any explicit claim, this is nonetheless naked "pinkwashing," a bid to buy "health" credits through its association with Komen. The foundation has a lot to answer for itself in this episode; for it to raise money on the back of the kind of diet linked to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and obesity is beneath contempt. But, for the moment, let's put aside the prostitution and focus on the stupidity.

Why does KFC feel the need to be perceived as something more wholesome and beneficial than it actually is? Look, these people sell crunchy, juicy, yummy fried chicken. It tastes good. Yeah, it's greasy. Yeah, it's basically a salt lick with bones. Yeah, it's not something you should probably be indulging in too often (and by "too often" I mean, "more than once per presidential administration.") But, for goodness sake, there's nothing to be ashamed of. It's comfort food, not snake venom. Or heroin. Or deep-fried Donner Party.

Me, if I were forging brand strategy, I'd defiantly promote my dietary incorrectness. I'd flip the bird at the food police and wave my greasy napkin as a battle flag. Sure beats lying -- not only on moral grounds, but on the basis of pure common sense. What could possibly make KFC think that anyone buys their sad little charades? They either have no respect for the crap-eating public or no idea how to search Twitter. Here just the top few of thousands in the same vein:

  • FrEaCt14: @Zwonder13 @mrhtown518 yawl wanna Share a bucket of chicken from kfc for breast cancer?? Lol
  • 29nSNGL_: RT @heevin: Ultimate "do the ends really justify the means?": selling KFC (FRIED CHICKEN) to raise money for breast cancer?! U can't make this shit up.
  • cantstopwinning: Wait, so you buy a bucket of KFC to fight breast cancer? What do you buy to fight obesity and heart disease?
  • ToykoRedDawn: Boycott Kentucky Fried Chicken For Pinkwashing! http://deceiver.com/2010/04/26/kfc-battles-breast-cancer-wtih-carcinogenic-fried-foods/
  • KFC doesn't listen to the Federal Trade Commission. It obviously has no intention of listening to me. Perhaps, though, it might consider listening, once and for all, to the consumer.

    Bob Garfield, now a consultant, has reported on advertising, marketing and media for 28 years.
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