In the UK, KFC recently turned a reputational crisis into a marketing coup. The brand’s crisis came about as the result of delivery failures which caused almost all of the 870 KFC outlets in the UK, most run by franchisees, to close their doors.

The back story is that logistics company DHL won the account to deliver fresh chickens to KFC outlets around the UK, but that after taking over the account in February it soon became clear that it was not up to the task. The result was that many stores literally had nothing to sell and were forced to close for around two weeks last month. 

Consumers were up in arms; some even called their local emergency services to complain. KFC responded in what some call the best “sorry” ad every made. The company took out a full page ad, created by its ad agency, Mother, in a number of national newspapers to apologise for the chicken shortage. The ads showed an empty KFC bucket with the brand’s well-known acronym switched around to read “FCK”. Below the visual the copy read: “We’re sorry. A chicken restaurant without chicken. It’s not ideal. Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who travelled out of their way to find we were closed.”

The copy went on to thank members of staff who were working to address the situation and ended with: “It’s been a hell of a week but we’re making progress, and every day more and more fresh chicken is being delivered to our restaurants. Thank you for bearing with us.”

After its initial print run the ad quickly went viral on social media, and with KFC’s humorous apology took Twitter by storm. One Twitter user dubbed it “a master class in PR crisis management”.

Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson says the brand “might actually emerge from the chicken crisis in better shape than before it went into it”. He writes: “The strategic and tactical implications of this simple ad spell out an extremely impressive bit of marketing by KFC that ticks many different boxes.”

Rather than going overboard with apologies and handwringing, says Ritson, KFC speaks in a voice that is exactly in line with its brand positioning and the audience it is targeting. He goes on to say that the brand is likely to benefit from the “acres of brand awareness” that the crisis created, and the fact that KFC uses fresh rather than frozen chicken. “What price that brand association?” he asks.

The big take-out:

KFC in the UK has won plaudits for the way it handled a recent chicken shortage.