TBWA\RAAD’s Jennifer Fischer writes about the agency’s WARC Prize for MENA Strategy Grand Prix-winning work for KFC, revealing how the brand succeeded in entering gaming culture.

One good thing about a challengingly tight budget is that it will push you to innovate. You have to overcome the instinct to seek novelty for novelty's sake and, instead, look for innovative solutions that can solve a tangible problem, in a way that’s not just novel but also relevant to the audience because it is useful. 

Gamers are a heavily contested audience. However, advertising has an exceptionally bad reputation with them. They view it as being pervasive and intrusive. Brands usually set up huge budgets that allow for sponsorships, partnerships, competitions, and big stunts all to grab the attention, rather than annoy, an already difficult-to-grab audience.

But there’s another way of grabbing attention in the gaming sphere as a brand, without having to splash a lot of cash. It’s being exceptionally convenient. To be there, without getting in the way.

Inside gamers’ world

In our research, we discovered that gaming puts players in a meditative-like state of flow. Obviously, interrupting this state of flow was not welcome. Though our goal was to drive e-commerce sales with gamers, we realised we had to make the sequence of actions needed to do that as convenient as possible, to minimise the interruption to their game flow.

We used social media semiotics to analyse gaming language and culture. And we found that while gamers are far from a homogenous group – they are as distinct in character and temperament as the games they play – they do have a universal commonality: they love shortcuts and codes. From simple acronyms like “AFK”, “EZ” and “GG,” to hidden easter eggs in games, unlocked through complex keystrokes, these codes were an integral part of a gamer’s vocabulary.

Convenience every step of the way

And thus, Shift+K+F+C was created – a cheat code programmed directly into our e-commerce website to shortcut the ordering process to just four keyboard strokes. It was a pure programming tweak that cost us nothing. With just a few lines of code to ‘place a meal’ upon pressing Shift, K, F, and C – promoted by an influential gamer – we boosted our website visits by 58% and delivered over 102,000 new sessions on our e-commerce website. 

We didn’t stop there. Since we were cracking the convenience code, we didn’t just minimise the disruption of ordering food, we minimised the disruption of eating, too. Pressing Shift+K+F+C would unlock a new item in the secret menu, the Gamer’s Box. Because we knew, through our research, that gamers didn’t like losing their flow while grabbing a bite, we designed the Gamer’s Box meal to allow them to grab food with one hand while keeping the other in the game. We wanted to give gamers a reason to order with us, not only because we had a good offer, but because eating was no longer a trade-off. We understood them and offered them what they wanted: the convenience of not interrupting their game. 

Above and beyond

We created a media plan that focused on gamers’ preferred platforms. We zeroed in on the YouTube of gaming, Twitch, and collaborated with the biggest influencers in the MENA region including Bandarita, RealFeras, 3Gaming, Meshael MR, and many more. The result? A dynamic, resonating, and videogame-focused campaign. Even our logo, featuring Colonel Sanders, got the ‘gamer’ makeover. 

The pay-off in authenticity

KFC not only showed gamers how much they mattered to it, but also proved that the brand was inspired by their culture so much so that it changed its entire branding to appeal to them. And it’s not lip service. With over 100 million PC gamers in the MENA region, the gaming culture, like any culture, responded positively when approached with respect and on its own terms. 

Globally, KFC has already done a lot to connect with gamers, including launching a dedicated gaming brand and social accounts, designing a chicken-heating gaming console, and even launching a Japanese-inspired dating game featuring Colonel Sanders. By innovating for gamers, KFC immersed itself into their world, adding real value to their lives without invading their space. Guided by accurate and audience-specific insights and meaningful interactions with the gaming community influencers, KFC is continuing to elevate its connection with gamers by delivering fun, new and exciting experiences that are disruptive of the norm, not of the game.

An abridged version of this article appears in WARC's 2021 MENA Strategy Report.