How KFC used humor to respond to a PR crisis–and won the day

How KFC used humor to respond to a PR crisis–and won the day

For business owners, there’s nothing worse that running out of the one thing your customers are seeking from you.

An oil change shop running out of oil, a tire shop running out of tires (all of them) or a chicken restaurant running out of chicken. That’s exactly what happened recently, when a change in suppliers led to a disruption to more than 600 stores in the UK–causing them to run out of chicken.

Let’s just say it ruffled a few feathers.

The chicken chain responded to the public relations crisis in a way that not only won customers back, it earned the respect of marketers everywhere and brought them plenty of publicity (positive, this time).

They ran a full-page newspaper ad with a picture of their signature bucket of chicken, only with the letters in the name of their restaurants rearranged, along with a full–and slightly humorous–apology. It read:

It read: “We’re Sorry. A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal. Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who traveled out of their way to find we were closed. An endless thanks to our KFC team members and our franchise partners for working tirelessly to improve the situation. 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.”

Here’s why it worked:

It was authentic. It was a risk to rearrange their logo into, essentially, a swear word, but the PR gurus at KFC guessed that the response would be how most of their client base would react in a similar situation. They were right.

It used humor. The tongue-in-cheek tone of the apology also sounded sincere, colored with the embarrassment most of us would feel if caught empty-handed.

It recognized the deeper problem. Obviously, being out of chicken is  bad thing for a chicken restaurant. To take it a step further, however, and apologize to the loyal customers who travel out of their way specifically to get KFC’s secret recipe, was an important step. It reinforces the quality of their product and essentially tells their customers that they realize there are other options out there.

It admits the mistake, and promises a return to business as usual. All the while, with the same wink in the tone that appeals to our own imperfect nature.

It stays true to the brand. Sure, the letters are rearranged, but everything else is the same. There’s no doubt who’s making the apology. It was truly a one-of-a-kind response.

What lessons did you ‘pluck’ from the situation? Have you ever had to respond to a public relations crisis? Let us know in the comments!

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