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The Fiendish Plot of Popeye's Chicken

Well, that or an incredibly stupid mismanagement of a major promotion. I am writing about the GM-like imbecility of KFC's now-infamous "Oprah Coupon" promotion, begun less than a week ago yet destined to make a laughing stock of the one-proud chain of chicken restaurants.

KFC is a division of Yum! Brands, a corporation of restaurants and fast-food purveyors, and one of the weaker lines in recent years. To counter its lagging position, the guys at KFC came up with two ideas to revive KFC's fortunes. First, the company decided to introduce non-fried entrees to the menu, calling them Kentucky Grilled Chicken. This was actually a pretty good idea, a way to attract health-conscious customers and expand the menu.

The second idea was born during the Super Bowl. Another restaurant chain, Denny's, got folks to give them another try with a time-tested promotion - a free breakfast to anyone who wanted one. Denny's promotion had significant risk and cost, but it paid off big-time, and the company's sales have been much improved since the promotion.

The guys at KFC saw the success at Denny's. and decided the best way for them to get the same results was to run a similar promotion. But rather than wait until the next Superbowl, KFC worked out a venture with the reigning Queen of daytime television, Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey talked up the chain on her show and announced the promotion; a coupon for a free two-piece chicken dinner. Oprah also posted a link on her website to the coupon printout. The coupons could be printed May 5 and 6, and could be redeemed anytime at any KFC through May 19, excepting Mother's Day.

Up to that point, this sounds like a great plan. A new product, announced on national television by a popular icon, with coupons to boot. What could go wrong?

From that point on, actually, almost everything.

In the first place, people began complaining from the start that they could not get the coupons to print. It should be noted that KFC neither acknowledged this problem, nor made any effort to address it. Of course, that's probably because they had much bigger problems staring them in the face.

The geniuses at KFC decided to run this promotion, but without any coordination with the local restaurants and franchises. What's worse, no one considered the likely response to the promotion, and the restaurants quickly ran out of the grilled chicken.

As a result, instead of a wildly successful promotion that could have raised KFC's stature and impressed new customers, KFC's promotion resulted in millions of people standing in line only to find their coupons were denied, no explanations were available, and the overworked staff was hostile and rude.

This being America, denial of the previously unknown right to free chicken led to reports of violence. KFC denied these reports of course, but right about now their credibility is such that anything they say is likely to work against them. In the same statement denying violence or angry protests, a company spokeswoman for KFC still tried to claim the company was prepared for the promotion.

The head office for KFC shut down its customer service lines and instead issued a press release promising that rainchecks would be sent to those unable to redeem their coupons. There's a few problems with that claim, though. In the first place, customers already angry about having stood in line to be denied are now being told to go back to the restaurants, not for the promised food but to fill out forms to receive another coupon that may or may not arrive in a couple months, which may or may not be accepted at the restaurants, which in any case is less than what was promised on the Oprah show, and by the way the restaurant people I talked to today, say they have no heard anything about rain checks and there are no forms to fill out, meaning that if a customer believes KFC this time and tries to get a form to send off for the raincheck, they are likely to get the same rude reception they got the first time they came in on the matter. In other words, KFC is doing the things that guarantee maximum brand damage to themselves.

The very idea that KFC would plan, execute, and respond so badly to this situation is corporate suicide, an action that only makes sense if the marketing department and upper management at KFC were quickly and quietly replaced by operatives from Popeye's chicken. Because the two things I can confidently claim after speaking to customers who tried to participate in the promotion, is that KFC has driven away a lot of customers, current and potential, and these folks will still go out and get chicken, which benefits Popeye's more than anyone else. El Pollo Loco has played on the hype, promising to honor the KFC coupons on Mother's Day, but the chain is too small to have planned and carried out a plan on this scale. As for Church's chicken, if you have tried any of their "specials" or watched any of their ads (I know what 'boring' is), you would recognize that subverting the Colonel to advance their own market share is well beyond their capabilities.

Whatever it is, this whole campaign and collapse is just one more example of how poor planning and dependence on spin is eventually just self-destructive and futile.


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Comments (30)

Sounds like there needs to ... (Below threshold)

Sounds like there needs to be a wholesale cleansing of the upper floor at KFC.

I really question the basic... (Below threshold)

I really question the basic management skills of some companies. Example: a very popular local hamburger chain in OKC offered half price burgers during the super bowl. Of course, they ran out of meat. They did not offer rainchecks on the spot, but had to be contacted through their website. They did offer a $5 gift card, but that did not cover the instance where you were buying large numbers of burgers to feed a super bowl party.

Yeah, but where is the part... (Below threshold)

Yeah, but where is the part about how Obama is the worst president ever?

Two words come to mind read... (Below threshold)
Peter F.:

Two words come to mind reading this: New Coke.

WC: "Yeah, but where is ... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

WC: "Yeah, but where is the part about how Obama is the worst president ever?"

You needed to read all the way to the end WC:

"poor planning and dependence on spin is eventually just self-destructive and futile"

Sound familiar? Remind you of any current American Presidential administrations? No? It sure does to me.

I still want a Captain D's ... (Below threshold)

I still want a Captain D's near my house...

What, they were usi... (Below threshold)

What, they were using the Obama administration as a role model?

I don't go to KFC much. Ma... (Below threshold)

I don't go to KFC much. Maybe 2 or 3 times a year. Now that they've removed the trans-fats, their fried chicken is not as good. I went in to sample the grilled chicken about a week ago. It was so below average I wondered how much test marketing they did.

The other reason I pretty much never eat there is every time I go they are out of chicken and it's a 15 minute wait. It boggles my mind that a chicken place runs out of chicken.

Well, I don't go to KFC as ... (Below threshold)

Well, I don't go to KFC as much as I used to because the chicken is really greasy. The novelty in the quality is not the same, either. My solution, mainly to save money in these economic times was to find the recipe and slow-bake it so the juices come to the surface. If in a hurry, I'll fry it and its still not as greasy as the stuff in the restaurant. I don't know if anyone is interested, but here is the original recipe:


OMG LAMEDUSA, ZOMBIE COLONE... (Below threshold)


(Thanks for the recipe--the chicken probably tastes much better if good quality meat is used instead of the rubber crap they serve in their "restaurants".)

I wonder what Bojangles' st... (Below threshold)

I wonder what Bojangles' stock is doing.

I'd rather eat "fried chicken" at most any truck stop than KFC, but Bojangles, and Popeyes is pretty good. Dunno anything about Church's that I can remember.

Bojangles in South Boston is my favorite FFC (Fast Fried Chicken) place I think.

Popeye's chicken is horribl... (Below threshold)

Popeye's chicken is horrible. Only hard-core ACORN activists eat there.

Church's is worse. Only people looking to feed their cats buy there

In the first place, people ... (Below threshold)

In the first place, people began complaining from the start that they could not get the coupons to print. It should be noted that KFC neither acknowledged this problem, nor made any effort to address it.

The second sentence is incorrect. When the "bricks" coupons failed to print someone at kfc marketing got the bright idea to post a pdf of the coupon on the unthinkkfc website. This led to mass printings.

"Bricks" (couponsinc) is designed to leave a a trace on your computer. The original 4 per computer limit may have been manageable. Combining a pdf with alike codes, franchises that has no idea what is going on and unlimited prints added up to some very bad publicity for both KFC and Oprah.

It also doesn't help that the grilled chicken really is not very good.

I have the original "apology" that was posted on the Oprah site (concerning the pdf) posted on my blog here . Needless to say this information has been stricken from Oprah's site.

I've always liked the chick... (Below threshold)

I've always liked the chicken at KFC, new grease and all. The sides and such are pretty good as well. I stopped going becuase I got tired of the lousy attitude of the employees, lack of food and dirty stores. In our local KFC the only time you got reasonable service was wen the manager was physically present. Otherwise, no!

The first time I ate at a P... (Below threshold)

The first time I ate at a Popeye's, the chicken still had a few feathers on it. I waited like 15 years before I tried it again. Since then, I have had good success.

Dear Leader is not pleased ... (Below threshold)

Dear Leader is not pleased with KFC.

"Popeye's chicken is hor... (Below threshold)

"Popeye's chicken is horrible. Only hard-core ACORN activists eat there."

Dude, them's fightin' words!

Popeye's chicken is a completely separate food group. After my first visit to Popeye's, I never went back to KFC. Never mind that they have NEVER gotten my order right, I don't even care. It's just the best chicken evah. And if LaMedusa can get me THAT recipe, well...

DJ,here an alterna... (Below threshold)


here an alternative thought. I think the guys at KFC are actually pretty smart.

They have watched the rule of law get trampled by the Obama administration, and have figured out that running a business is going to get much more painful over the next 4 years. And seeing the writing on the wall (3 million private sector jobs lost since january, while well over 100,000 new government employees have been hired), they want to switch to a career in government.

I think this stunt was to show their suitability to work in the Obama Administration!

Maybe they're bucking for a... (Below threshold)

Maybe they're bucking for a bailout.

Ad yet another company too ... (Below threshold)

Ad yet another company too stupid to get out of its own way. The trick is to Under Promise and Over Deliver. Get it backwards and you're toast.

I work at KFC. Let me tell... (Below threshold)

I work at KFC. Let me tell you, this whole coupon fiasco was nothing but hell for KFC workers. My particular store is a franchise, which means it is owned by an individual rather than directly by KFC. Corporate did not reimburse our franchise for the cost of this promotion, which means every free meal came out of the owner's pocket.

Let me assure you, nobody who actually works in a KFC thought this was a good idea. There is no way possible that we can keep that much chicken cooked to feed that many people; it was madness to try.

I have been very honest with my customers. I told them how I felt about the promotion when they asked my opinion, and I told them what corporate is trying to deny about the violence. When they asked why we stopped honoring the coupons, I told them the truth.

It was very embarassing to have to tell my customers "Sorry, we are out of chicken." That actually happened several times. Unlike most fast food joints, we can't have more of our main product ready in just a few minutes; prep time plus cook time is probably 25-30 minutes for a tray of chicken, assuming that everything in the kitchen is running smoothly (rarely is that the case).

I'm one of the few non-management employees that actually cares about my job and sees it as more than just a paycheck. This entire promotion has made me just about hate my job. If corporate ever does something this monumentally retarded again, I will tell them where they can put their chicken as I turn in my hat.

"This being America, denial... (Below threshold)

"This being America, denial of the previously unknown right to free chicken led to reports of violence."

It's funny that Kim can say things like the above quote, but if someone utters a comment about not being 100% proud of America 100% of the time without exception or pause, they're a crazy America hating liberal. Hypocrisy? You betcha!

Jake, Kim didn't say it, DJ... (Below threshold)

Jake, Kim didn't say it, DJ did. And what has your broad-brushing statement about "someone" not being "100 percent proud of America" got to do with DJ's post about a specific promo mishap and the public's reaction?

@LaMedusa -- oops, thanks f... (Below threshold)

@LaMedusa -- oops, thanks for the DJ vs. Kim correction.

As far as the proud comment... surely you remember the blowup over Michelle Obama's comment about being proud of her country. Surely you're seen any number of bloggers and/or commenters here call people who say that Americans might be doing something wrong or less than perfect "anti-American"?

I just think it's amusing that when someone says it other than the Golden Bloggers, it's anti-American. When they say it, it's just good observation.

My point was your broad bru... (Below threshold)

My point was your broad brushing, Jake, which you just remedied with an example. I have to say, though, your Michelle comparison still doesn't have much to do with a corporate screw up. And there you go again with "the Golden bloggers", as if they are some species of blogger that exists only to be right all the time. Who the hell are they?

Michelle said it was the first time she felt proud of her country, implying that because Obama was nominated, it meant something to her personally. It really sounded like she had no reason to be proud before, and that is what people were in an uproar about. You sound like you want the blogger to be a hypocrite or just plain wrong for a change, and using an off the wall comparison to follow up with that viewpoint. Seriously, I think you are trying way to hard to be a remedial.

Congratulations, Jake, on d... (Below threshold)

Congratulations, Jake, on derailing the thread again in your quest to seek out and destroy hypocrisy!TM even if it has to be in a thread about a chicken restaurant.

Jake, So the assumpt... (Below threshold)

So the assumption is you agree with Michelle
Obamas' statement of finally being proud of
America. Is that your stand?
Are you getting the same free full ride that she
and Barack have recieved all of their lives?
Does this mean you wouldn't know dirty fingernails if they were yours?

@maggie - That's an interes... (Below threshold)

@maggie - That's an interesting claim...how do you figure the Obama's got a free ride all their lives?

Jake, By reading cur... (Below threshold)

By reading current bios on both of them.

I didn't get to use my coup... (Below threshold)
Christina Viering:

I didn't get to use my coupon.






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