Tatiana Jezierski, Strategy Director, Mother takes us through the strategy behind the 2022 IPA Effectiveness Award-winning campaign, KFC: ‘The right way’ to rebuild a brand.

For 70 years, QSR brand KFC has been famous for its Original Recipe fried chicken captured in its iconic endline “it’s finger lickin’ good”. But in 2017, the brand and business were stagnating.

An iconic brand losing cultural relevance

Food culture and our competition had changed. New ‘fast casual’ competitors and a rejuvenated McDonalds catered to expectations for food to have a wrapper of good, as well as convenience. While the category was growing, KFC was stuck in ‘fast food’ – losing share, penetration and relevance. The legendary brand had lost its way – now seen as an outdated, uncaring machine, selling industrialised chicken.

A challenge that went beyond comms

Comms hadn’t been helping. In a category where we couldn’t outshout the big spenders (like market leader McDonalds), we had to stand out – and lack of brand distinctiveness was such a huge issue that KFC couldn’t even advertise its burger products due to the levels of misattribution to competitors.

This wasn’t just a comms challenge – it was a wholesale business challenge. 

A platform to speak to both the business and the consumer

We needed a platform that could modernise KFC, while still feeling authentic. We invested time in research (internally and with consumers) to interrogate the brand DNA. This revealed the strength of KFC’s fundamentals – great chicken, made and eaten by hand – and underutilised elements of the brand – an unwavering commitment to quality, the Colonel’s founding principles, and never cutting corners. 

These values resonated with modern consumers, the new ‘fast good’ cultural codes, and across the business. At its heart KFC was more relevant than we realised – we just needed a new story.

Our solution was a new strategic platform: ‘The Right Way’. 

This didn’t just shape media and comms, but everything from food innovation, to restaurant design, team-member experience, and a category-leading chicken welfare programme. It was a simple mantra that anyone at KFC could understand, remember and apply to their areas of expertise.

The Right Way to shout about our assets

Despite its tired external image, the internal spirit of KFC was energetic, youthful and modern. We captured this energy in our comms, giving us a voice that let us talk about our brand, our products, and what was happening in culture in a way that felt our own – whether that meant launching with a live chicken in an advert, or rearranging the brand logo on a bucket during 2018’s supply crisis.

The strategy and creative also celebrated the core elements of the brand. Most importantly, the C in KFC. Our advertising went back to celebrating the fresh, quality, hand-breaded core product, breaking with category conventions to create a unique food world showing the chicken as messy, delicious, about-to-be-eaten. In hero campaigns, we used our customers and even our competitors (we call them imitators) as further proof of our superiority.

Branding was at the heart of many of our ideas. We used KFC’s wealth of distinctive assets – from buckets, to bolo ties, to the Colonel himself – not just as badges at the end of an ad, but as integral parts of an idea or campaign.

Brand was celebrated in media as in creative. The media plan moved towards the optimum 60:40 brand: sales split, moving away from short term sales driven by limited time offers and value messaging, towards a long term investment in building the brand.

A means to embrace the new world

Product innovation shifted away from limited-time-offers, to refocus on fried chicken and Original Recipe products, new skin-on fries and colourful slaw to combat 'junk food' perceptions.

The business established a working partnership with the World Animal Protection Agency (who protested our 2017 live chicken advert), to set new category benchmarks in chicken welfare. In 2021, KFC was awarded as ‘top of the pecking order’ in chicken welfare in the QSR category.

‘The Right Way' values were used across restaurant design (through bespoke artwork and a design ethos for fit-out) to team member guidelines and incentives. Even the annual Restaurant General Manager conferences were redesigned to keep the entire business (from franchisees to front-of-house) invested in, and excited about, the brand and its campaigns.

We transformed the entire business  

We transformed the whole business but simultaneously held onto and amplified the core strengths of the brand. This wasn't a brand repositioning, it was a brand going back to its roots.

We improved perceptions of quality (+6.2pts), value (+7.3pts), and the brand overall (+8.7pts).

We increased penetration 3%, approximately +1.5 million new customers.

We accelerated KFC revenue growth ahead of target (to 25% vs. 18%), and then grew market share (+38%).

Which we couldn’t have done without two things

Long-term commitment to and consistency with the strategy from 2018-2021.

A strategy designed to build a business from the inside out. Driving change across many departments and specialist disciplines, unifying the entire company and giving them a memorable filter for decision-making.

The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising established the IPA Effectiveness Awards competition in 1980. WARC subscribers can read all the case studies here, and the IPA Insights Report 2022 is available here