It’s not often that a retail ad goes viral, particularly on the scale of KFC’s recent advert for its Streetwise 2 meal. The ad is based on a footballer’s antics on the field. The player’s behaviour has an uncanny resemblance to that displayed by Brazilian footballer Neymar da Silva Santos Junior at this year’s Fifa World Cup in Russia. The ad received a staggering 3.9 billion impressions. 

Neymar came in for ridicule and was the butt of jokes and memes from around the world as a result of his habit of overreacting to apparent fouls. He would throw himself to the ground and give a prolonged display of writhing in apparent pain. He is not the only one to have behaved in this way; the practice is common among many professional players to win an advantage, such as a free kick, or even the expulsion of an opposition player.

KFC’s Suhayl Limbada says the reason for the ad’s success was its ability to bring people together to share a human truth, and to get them talking. In fact, this is the fundamental element of any standout piece of work, he believes. “Any ad that taps into a global human insight and not just a certain segment of the population can create this result. That was our objective – to become part of the social conversation,” he says.

The idea for the Neymar ad was born during the 2018 World Cup. Limbada explains that KFC wanted to capitalise on the subject because it was topical, but also stand out in a particularly cluttered advertising period. KFC decided to take a humorous approach instead of the more serious, emotional one other brands were using at the time. 

The big take-out

KFC’s retail ad for its streetwise offering went viral on a global scale due to its ability to unite people through a common human insight and get them talking and sharing.

“We wanted a different take and decided to capitalise on the drama of the game and the practice of diving, or ‘flipping’, as it is known in the US, when payers writhe on the ground in ‘agony’ after a mere touch from an opponent. It’s a common part of the game, but one that hasn’t been highlighted before,” Limbada says.

The fact that the advert was shown on popular culture platforms such as 9Gag, The Sun UK, Reddit and Oh my Goal was a highlight for Limbada. “We made the ad for nine African countries with the objective of driving our flagship Streetwise 2 offering as well as making it relevant to a large population through football, which is hugely popular on the continent, not to mention that is was topical at the time. The fact that it reached the world was a major coup for the brand,” he says.

Indeed, as Limbada points out, it’s all very well to make a great ad, but it has to sell to be effective. There were both positive growth in the sales of the Streetwise 2 offering and a halo effect across the entire business. For Limbada, the most exciting part was becoming part of the social conversation across platforms on a global scale. “An SA ad with an SA cast that reached over 9 million views in the first 45 minutes after it was posted on 9Gag –  now that’s something to talk about,” he says.