It has been about 3 weeks since Oprah and Kentucky “Grilled” Chicken joined up for a marketing FAIL that is right up there with New Coke and Hoover’s “tickets-for-vacuums” fiasco. In fact, Advertising Age put together a nice marketing disasters hall of fame if you are interested in reading up on some of the worst PR flubs of all time. But I want to step back for a minute and look at what went wrong. I also want to discuss how they could have made things right.
In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, here is a quick refresher. On May 5th, 2009, Oprah Winfrey used her show called Oprah (I’m told that it is quite popular) to announce a way to save money during these tough economic times. KFC was pimping their new product offering, Kentucky Grilled Chicken, by giving away a two-piece chicken meal that included two sides and a biscuit. Never mind the odd mixed messages being sent by the queen of the weight-loss-weight-gain roller coaster.
You’re getting some chicken! You’re getting some chicken!
How it was supposed to work was, you would go to Oprah’s blog whose KFC post had a link to www.UnthinkKFC.com. Here you would be walked through an automated process that would allow you to print out a maximum of four coupons. (By the way, www.UnthinkKFC.com now features what looks to be Drew Carey’s girlfriend from The Drew Carey Show dancing like a crazy person.) Right from the start, Twitter started buzzing with reports of problems printing the coupons. Some people were unable to print out all four, others were asked to download a standalone app before they could print anything, but most people reported timeouts at various stages of the coupon-printing process. So why go to all the trouble? KFC’s intentions were noble. In an effort to keep the giveaway under control, the restaurant chain employed software that created a unique, 2-D QR code near the top-right of each coupon. Each QR code was accompanied by a unique numeric string. Of course, this only works if the system can handle the traffic, and their system couldn’t and didn’t. So what to do? KFC had to react fast or risk major embarrassment. So they redirected the UnthinkKFC link to Oprah’s blog post (abosolutely hilarious to me that Oprah’s site could handle the traffic, no problem). And instead of software that generated unique bar codes, the blog post simply made available a PDF of one of the coupons. From this point forward KFC no longer had any control over what happened with the coupon. They basically had two choices. They could decide not to honor what quickly became known as the “Oprah coupon,” or they could suck it up and take a massive hit. As it turned out, they sort of split the difference. For a recap of play-by-play updates that were reported as the meltdown transpired, visit local Los Angeles food blog , LA Foodie.
Reportedly, KFC franchise owners were given a mere one-week’s notice (or less in some cases), so within about 48 hours, many understandably-unprepared KFCs stopped honoring the coupon altogether. Others simply ran out of chicken. Finally, three days later, KFC’s president Roger Eaton issued, in my opinion, an insincere apology about the fact that no KFC branch would honor any more coupons. Instead, coupons could be redeemed for a rain check that includes… wait for it… a free Pepsi.
So just about everything that could have gone wrong did. There was virtually no spin-control, and now KFC looks like a bunch of jerks. How could they have done it right? Rather than speculate, let’s simply turn to Oscar Meyer who, 15 days later, executed a nearly-flawless free hot dog giveaway . Between the hours of 9 AM and 11:59 PM EDT, you could visit a landing page on Kraft.com that asked for an email address and a physical address. This double-check prevented a “runaway coupon.” And rather than issuing the coupon on the spot, Kraft decided to mail the coupon to your physical address. This method is so much better for a couple of reasons. First, they are collecting both an email address and a physical address. This is worth the cost of some hot dogs and postage many times over. Second, there are two points of warm, fuzzy contact. The first is when you sign up for the coupon and think to yourself, “Well, gee. Thanks Oscar Meyer! Money has been a little tight lately.” The next warm fuzzy happens when the coupon arrives in the mail. I haven’t yet received my coupon (by the way, BBQ at my place in 4-6- weeks), but I guarantee that there will be other coupons mixed in with the freebie. This is further incentive for brand loyalty.
So I guess a bird in the hand is not worth some hot dogs in the mail. Or something like that.