KFC: Why it pays to be brave

KFC has weathered significant storms this year, with the help of clever and upfront advertising. We talk to Hermeti Balarin, ECD at KFC’s agency Mother, about advertising in a crisis, and how mutual respect between brand and agency is still essential in making great work

In February this year, a logistical error by the new supplier for KFC across the UK led to a dearth of fresh chickens and the closure of most of the brand’s restaurants for several days. The crisis became headline news, leading to many gags – “fowl-up” anyone? – and three separate police forces issuing statements to point out, in the words of Tower Hamlets Police’s Twitter announcement, that “it is not a police matter if your favourite eatery is not serving the menu that you desire”.

So far, so amusing you might think. That is if you don’t work at KFC, where across the company, staff quickly went into crisis management mode. “The crisis hit on a Friday, and by the Monday I think all of the marketing department was spread out all over the company,” remembers Hermeti Balarin, ECD at Mother, KFC’s ad agency. “There were people manning depots, there were people in stores, there were people manning phones, everyone from our clients had been reallocated to something much more complicated and not their day job.”

Mother had only been working with the chicken brand for a period of months at this stage, having won the account in early 2017, ending a 15-year relationship between KFC and BBH. But, thankfully, the new agency and client had already established a strong partnership. “The advantage in this case is the client is really open and welcoming to us as an agency,” Balarin explains. “We sit in their franchisee meetings, we sit in the business meetings, so we knew the business inside out, and the tone of the people by that point.”