Social Media Marketing Lessons: KFC Learns The Power of Online Buzz

by Stacey Doyle on October 24, 2009

What happens when a marketing stunt goes bad? Some free offers aren’t all that they’re cut out to be — but there’s always redemption: interested in free chicken this October 26?

These days, people are spending money less often, and now we’re all looking for great bargains: hoping to get more for less. In the spring, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) offered 2 pieces of grilled chicken, 2 side dishes and a biscuit for free. With Oprah Winfrey and Twitter promoting the freebie, KFC had more responses than they could fulfill.

KFC grilled chicken

The Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) Social Media Promotion and Aftermath

During the first KFC promotion, there were four printings of coupons made as part of a Twitter promo announced by Oprah Winfrey. A lot of eager consumers flooded the KFC website, but only lucky visitors were actually able to print coupons. Unfortunately, once those who got the coupons arrived at KFC, some locations refused to honor these coupons while other branches simply could not supply the demand. There were some terrible consequences, with irate customers being turned away and coupons not being accepted. This resulted in some chaos, with brawls erupting in certain locations and police having to come around to restore order. When all this happened, KFC immediately felt the backlash. Remember that poor service or inability to fulfill promotional deals are good reasons for customers to choose the competition.

The Fallout: When people are on a tight budget, a free meal is major bait. KFC customers felt that a “bait and switch” had occurred to try to encourage them into making a cash purchase. Customers got angry enough to proclaim that they would never eat at KFC again after such a “publicity stunt”. While KFC had lots of people talking about them, it’s obvious that some of the attention they incurred was negative. Online chatter also revealed unhappy complaints against the fast food giant due to the way their promotion was conducted. The good thing though, was that KFC took notice of this.

The KFC Solution: The Second Round

After the hype, KFC posted instructions on their website informing customers about how to obtain rain check forms from participating locations. The form needed to be completed and submitted to KFC via mail or at drop in locations; by doing so, you would receive a voucher for a free Kentucky Grilled Chicken meal and Pepsi. You can guess what happened — again, certain people received vouchers while others claimed they got nothing but the runaround.

People had difficulty finding participating KFC locations, causing more frustration. Other customers claimed they submitted rain checks but never received the vouchers. Despite all the attention that KFC received from this process, there were a lot of unhappy customers who took their dissatisfaction to public forums: KFC received more bad exposure, particularly online. This gives us a glimpse of the collective power of consumers.

KFC Tries Again

Now coming this October 26, KFC will once again offer free grilled chicken to all US customers. But KFC should keep that old saying in mind, as they go about this new campaign: three strikes and you’re out. KFC knows they need to impress customers this time to regain their trust and their business. Roger Eaton, KFC President, told the Associated Press, “We gear the shifts up so we make sure we have the staffing, we make sure we’ve got the chicken.”

KFC hopes that this new promotion will bring in customers and will help to recover some of the goodwill that may have been lost in previous “free chicken” events. Last quarter’s numbers show that KFC sales are down 2 percent, but their grilled chicken product is making waves, accounting for 30% of their domestic sales.

Social Media Marketing and How The Internet Holds You Accountable

We all love free stuff. But whether an item is free or paid for, customers should get what they are promised: it’s only good business for a company to strive to live up to the expectations of their customers.

The KFC situation proves that customers and consumers have a voice. In days gone by, it took weeks for consumers to get their phone calls answered and to get their opinions posted in local papers. Today we can harness the power of the Internet to share information and updates in the blink of an eye. Social media channels — blogging, tweeting and updating websites — are ways to keep companies accountable to their customers. News travels more quickly online, which can be a major advantage to communicative consumers.

Moral of the story? The Internet is a powerful tool. You can harness social media to benefit your business, but it can also bring you down if you aren’t on the ball.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Prashant October 27, 2009 at 12:53 am

Very informative, this is a perfect example of how online viral marketing can work against you as it can work for you, if not implemented correctly.

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