Posted May 7, 2009 4:18 pm by with 53 comments

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There aren’t many examples where you see the adage “all publicity is good publicity” actually hold true, but I suspect that the KFC/Oprah coupon debacle could end up being one.

For those of you not familiar with the incident, let me bring you up to speed.

KFC’s sales are suffering, so the company is hoping its new line of Kentucky Grilled Chicken can help lift its bottom line. To help spread the word, it joined forces with the promotional juggernaut called Oprah, who announced on her show downloadable coupons–good for a free 2-piece meal.

The only problem is that KFC didn’t anticipate–which blows my mind–that a free giveaway from Oprah would send tens of thousands of people to the fast food chain’s stores. Reports soon came in that stores were refusing to honor the coupons–for a whole host of reasons.

OK, so back to the lead-in for this story. Unlike the recent Dominos incident, KFC could end up sitting pretty. After all, this is not a crisis surrounding an employee sticking a piece of chicken up his nose, but a stampede of customers interested in KFC’s new grilled chicken!

I say spin it baby!

This is not a negative, this is a home run for KFC–so long as their PR folks can get up to speed ASAP. How often do PR folks run a promotion that has lines of customers outside the door?

The next few days will be critical for KFC. The wrong response, and we’ll remember this event as the one where KFC pulled a fast one on consumers. The right response, and this could be finger-lickin’ good for the company’s sales. 😉

What do you think? A disaster or home run?

UPDATE: Oprah had the President of KFC on her show today (May 8th) and they attempted to turn this negative into a positive. He claimed that KFC simply didn’t expect 4 million people to swarm to their stores in such a short period and he apologized. To make it up to coupon holders, KFC is adding a free Pepsi to the deal and will provide rainchecks to those who didn’t get their free meal. Oprah smiled all the way through the interview and did a great job of throwing her approval behind the apology and extra gift. There’s a written apology on the Oprah web site.

  • Biff Henderson

    Disaster – Oprah’s gonna have to announce something about all this on her show

  • @Biff – I’m not so sure. Her show was likely paid for the endorsement and any negative response could rub off on her too!

  • Eh, I dunno if it’s a win for KFC. According to Consumerist, the franchised stores weren’t being reimbursed. KFC corporate should be reimbursing these guys. That said, I hardly consider it a win for KFC at this point.

    Tamar Weinberg’s last blog post..When is Brand Evangelism a Crime? Exploring the Royal Caribbean Promotional Marketing Strategy

  • Laura Hartley

    And what does PETA say about all this?? Wasnt Oprah their Person of the year or something? What about the Kentucky Friend Cruelty? Why is there not more speculation on this topic?

  • @Tamar – I agree, at this point, it’s a disaster. But, there’s a great opportunity to turn this around.

  • The way this promotion has ended up thus far I see the finger in a place knowbody would want to lick it.

  • @Bruce – ouch! 😉

  • Dean

    At this point its probably a disaster. Enough patrons were turned away to create a backlash that will be hard to dig out of. Had they done some good scenario planning they would have been able to implement a spin plan and capitalize on this “best case scenario”

    Amazing that they didn’t think this through and ultimately stuck it to consumers and the franchise owners. Bad Execution and response by KFC.

    On another note, who are these people that stampede to KFC for a $3.59 dinner??? C’mon people, calm down a little. You paid more for gas than the freebie was worth.

  • morozco

    @Laura: Sorry, no give’s a chicken’s butt what PETA has to say or think…

    @article: Nope, not a win for KFC no matter how they spin it…by virtue of this article, and thousands of bloggers and tweeters out there…we all already know KFC didn’t have the foresight to anticipate such a huge response…free food plus enordsed by Oprah equals juggernaut of a promo.

    At the same time though, if you run out of chicken, well, you run out of chicken…no real way to get around that besides not accepting the coupon…it DOES say in the restrictions “…while supplies last” which isn’t just there to cover KFC’s ass…it’s true, you can only serve a product you HAVE…

    In the end, I don’t see KFC making good on it, unless the Grilled chicken is THAT good…

  • How could they NOT know that a promotion by Oprah would cause an onslaught? C’mon, she’s one of the most famous people in the world, and people LISTEN to her! I think the marketing executive who wasn’t expecting this must live in a closet to be that clueless.

    And I hope it does hurt KFC. The way they are cruel to animals they should get it where it hurts them most! I’m astonished PETA has said nothing…

    Bonnie Landau’s last blog post..Aren’t Pre-Designed Templates Ugly?

  • Michael Aguilar

    screw KFC…this was a mean trick to pull on people in the middle of the worst econmoic downturn in decades…after being turned away at three KFC restaurants tonight in north orange county california, I will never set foot inside a KFC again.

    (we were offered vaue meals at the places we went to…pay full freight…why offer the coupon? BAIT AND SWITCH CORPORATE GREED BASTARDS)

    what kind of turnout did they think they would get?

  • steve

    DISASTER, think of all the people that took the time to drive to a KFC and wait in line around dinner time after work only to be told that the coupons were not good. People are pissed, I know people that will never go back even if they are giving away a bucket of the stuff.

  • Eric

    We went to get some today and they had a sign in the window (Arial Black, 18 point) that was all “DUE TO SHORTAGES BLAH BLAH BLAH” and we were like “BITCHES” and we totally went and had Mexican instead which is what we should have done in the first place. What a pack of goons. I bet they paint those grill stripes on.

  • Joshua Cohen

    Ridiculous!!! the local stores had their phones disconnected, some even closed rather than be open during the promotion!!!

    How can the corporate idiots at KFC/YUM not realize that with a bad economy people would line up in droves! what they should have done was to have a limit of 1,000,000 coupons. first come first serve.

    the People who got burned by KFC wont be forgetting this soon!!!!

  • I tell you that KFC definitely should’ve thought this through better. I mean if they offer something and don’t have it, that is only going to hurt them.

    Do you think someone who got the shaft after packing up the kids to get a free meal is going to go back to KFC now? – Sure some will, but most won’t. – It might’ve not been meant to be a bait/ switch type scenario, but that is what it looks like.

    Fail for KFC.

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  • siccmade00

    Everybody is going to hate, and that’s fine. I was a manager in charge of this chaos on wed. At a kfc. A brand new kfc at that. You know me and the other manager were doing the best we can, and yes we prepared for it. We knew it was going to be PACKED. But when you have the dining room filled to capacity and your dt wrapped all the way around your building and all the out into the street, plus people waiting in line next door just to get in line, yeah it was a little overwelming. Its FREE food guys, give us a break. You can only prepare so much chicken at one time. And on top of that an error on oprahs site were letting people download an unlimited amount instead of the limit of 4 per household. Everybody should undertand we are doing our best and are genuine in wanting everybody to try the new product. I did my best and guess what? Everyone got served and no coupons were turned away. So I think everyone should understand that and cut us a break and come back and try again if you didn’t get in the first time. If you work at a gas station, how would you feel if your store were to give away a free gallon to. Everybody? What if you ran a clothing store and decided to give everyone a free tshirt? You would do the best you can to accomedate the people who showed up while your supplies lasted… Just think about it …

  • Cheryl

    It’s a bit of both. On the “disaster” side: I actually tried to download the coupon and was never able to get the “coupon printer” that KFC made you install on your PC to work and actually print out the coupon, and I am very computer savvy. Multiply me by others that were unable to do the same and you have many missed opportunities. On top of KFC being woefully unprepared — and honestly, who on this planet would not not anticipate the “Oprah effect?” Not good. On the plus side: it has created a lot of buzz and I think those that didn’t get to use the coupon will be curious enough to check it out on their own.

  • A friend sent this to me; I clicked on the link and now, even if the coupon deal is legit, I have the KFC Logo on my internet browser tabs, all of the tabs. Clicking on the coupon activates a VIRUS that HIJACKS your I.E. browser. Pretty annoying. I don’t even eat this junk.

  • Jeremy

    The local stores are blaming oprah for KFC’s not being prepared with an adequate supply of chicken. Last night the only business that I saw coming through the door was to redeem the coupons, and most left angry without purchasing anything. A certificate was being given out for a free coupon for a later date that the consumer had to fill out with all of there personal information that could be mailed or left in store but the store I was in was refusing to accept the certificates, insisting that they had to be mailed.
    I love the grilled chicken product when it is fixed correctly but some KFC’s are cutting corners so bad that they are making me not want to come back. This is definately a major black eye for KFC, that needs more than just a good pr department to fix.

  • Jeremy

    And by the way, the reason given that the coupons were not being honored was because there was a nationwide chicken shortage. But if you were willing to pay for the chicken they had it available.

  • New info on the KFC site says it is now only redeemable for a voucher to be used at a later date. They will no longer accept the coupon.

  • I’m remembering a time when Quiznos offered a coupon for buy one get one free subs… then after redeeming it a few times… seeing a cut out of the coupon on a board that said “not accepted”. Same with Mobile gas stations ran a promo about 10 years ago for some deal involving a very cheap soft drink. Of course they too stopped accepting it as well.

    Why on earth these companies think that they can make an announcement to give something away for free — and then not plan on following through — is beyond me. There are websites dedicated to watching for deals like this so that everyone who follows those sites can participate — even if you didn’t watch the original show. The page on this has over 6000 comments as of now..

    Matt’s last blog post..Find Private Investigator to caught on tape the Cheating wife

  • Yet ANOTHER example of how truly lost – and non-committed to marketing expenditure – the average corporation is now. Simply put – no one has cajones anymore with “investor money”, and almost every major corporation in the world really is hopelessly lost at the nuts-and-bolts, put-it-into-practice level.

    Poorly conceived, poorly organized, poorly executed.

    > The concept at face value is a customer “winner”. “Crispinesque”, if you will. Cajones..?

    > Use the “legalese” as a humorous attraction point. Limit it to “x” offer fulfillments per store, per day, then play that up – customer empathy, *and* everyone knows there’s a limit. Print and send out “We’re Out… Get A Free Pepsi!!” signs to all franchises at corporate (marketing) expense. Co-op promotional hard costs.

    > Agree on the fallback plan among franchise power-player owners- *golden* opportunity to demo new products (remember McDonalds’ taco and pizza “demos”, ugh??) when the daily Free Offer limit is hit.

    > Be prepped to generate and deliver new mass-media creatives based on feedback during the offer, plan to use ad buys for this purpose prior-to – THIS is spin control!! Be responsive, retain talent to produce creatives overnight as needed.

    This will end up being just another example of opportunity cost in corporate America. Manufacturing/order fulfillment hates Sales, Sales hates Marketing, Executives hate everybody because we’re all “cost centers”.

    Can’t we just all get along, do a great job everyday, and make money without leveraging sub-prime mortgages?!?!?

    Larger companies – think. Have the guts to hire and retain talented decision-makers.

    *Andy & Co. – thanks for the good work, I’m so sorry I missed you at the Charlotte SEO meet the other month, I hope to meet you soon.

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  • Bebe Jo Bass

    I waited in line and someone came out and told me I had to fill out a form and they would mail me a coupon and give me a free drink cause there was to many frauds on coupons. I was pissed and pulled out of line. I would not fill out another form and have one mailed to me. I will not go back to our KFC store again.

  • Steve

    DISASTER- KFC got the people in their doors, then sent them right back out. Then they ask you to send a coupon in AT YOUR EXPENSE and return with your raincheck AT YOUR EXPENSE. Many better ways to handle this rather than shut the door on the consumer…how about offering a free item from the value menu as concession, with added benefit of not only saving expenses, but increasing goodwill and making add-on sales of sides and drinks. No, way too proactive for KFC.

    But their grilled chicken slogan is most appropriate for this consumer: “UNTHINK KFC.” Oh, you bet I will.

  • It is not Oprah who will be hurting over this. It is the small local franchisee owners. These are the people who are giving the free meals away, not Oprah! Oprah is not paying a thing for your free meals, yet she gets the praise. As far as the power of Oprah……that is a bunch of bull as well. Yes she reaches alot of people. But you could not go on the internet without it leading you to the free meal coupon. Then word of mouth. Then you had people printing & copying millions coupons. The whole coupon idea was a bust , non-planned fiasco for the small franchisees. As far as the KFC and the cruelty of animals….

  • cont….PETA needs to check out Tyson and other like companies. It is not KFC. When you buy chicken for your home….you are buying it for the same companies.

  • cont…..
    It is the Corporation of YUM! who needs to pay these franchisee’s back for their un-thought out plan of the mighty KFC Grilled Coupon! Extra employment hours, loss of earnings, etc. And no I am not a franchisee. Just don’t like it when the big company corp’s shove to the little guy who is the backbone of this country!

  • Yum, kfc spicy chicken…yummmm…

    mark’s last blog post..Free XBox 360! Get A Free XBox 360 Elite/Premium Now!

  • matthew

    I went to KFC today to get my free meal and was very disturbed that they couldn’t honor the coupon, but I could have BOUGHT the same meal right then and there.
    No, Im not a cheap bastard whos pissed that he didnt get free food. Im pissed that this was obviously a SCAM to Just to get people in the door at the struggling KFC restaurants. They can say the demand was overwhelming and they didnt see it coming but that is clearly a LIE. Any idiot could see that there would be a huge demand, and Im sure that many stores were not out of chicken. The one I went to sure wasnt.

    They could at least give you some fried chicken or even a freaken drink, but instead want to give people another coupon??? NO thanks. LIKE THE OTHER GUY SAID< “TIME TO RETHINK KFC. I think that I wont ever go to KFC again.

    Im sure they figured people would just buy something since they were allready there, but Im sure they were wrong. I hope that anyone who got turned down walked out and took their money somewhere else like I did.

  • 1) It’ll soon be forgotten if they don’t keep making a big deal out of it.
    2) Coupons are coupons – they don’t “owe” anyone anything.
    3) If “Consumerist” is right, that “the franchised stores weren’t being reimbursed” then that’s a blackhole for them and hardly supportive from KFC headquarters.
    4) Here’s the thing really — if you’re on Oprah, DUH! This is going to happen. They knew it, she knew it and they still let it happen. Big, bad decisions somewhere.
    5) People, i.e. companies make mistakes. Outside of a little time and a few miles gas, no one lost anything on this if they didn’t get their free cluck for the day.

    Lighten up people!

    I was pulling for them in the beginning & thought it may be a stunt – “just spell my name right”, but after not being able to download the coupon because they did not anticipate the server stress (really?) and now returning to the site seeing that it is “too late” makes me a little angry. I feel ripped off and I didn’t even buy anything. They reached out to offend people in the end and the grilled chicken I wanted to try at KFC is now leaving a bad taste in my mouth without ever having tried it.

  • Jim

    What most of the pubic doesn’t realize is the ‘checks and balances’ put in place for a limit of 4 coupons per computer went out the window due to a SERVER CRASH (hackers suspected) so the KFC made the decision to post a downloadable PDF for a short period of time (It was either that or get blamed for not living up to the offer of allowing people to log on and download…darned if you do, darned if you don’t).

    IT WAS ALL OVER at the point the coupon PDF was out there. As every knows, you can email a PDF anywhere or print unlimited copies. People and organizations everywhere were printing coupons off without limits. Everyone saw the results.

  • Who was the marketing genius who thought up that solution? Pdf file – for goodness sakes! They should have just made the announcement on Oprah to go to your local KFC for 1 day only & GET a free coupon – given by KFC when asking to be used during a very limited time – like within 3 days to a week.

    I do not know how they will get rid of the negative connotation. It feels like a scam, even though, logically you know there were problems. I think they should let the hype die as soon as possible, resume the interesting grilled chicken commercials ASAP. Even the “fixes” are making things worse.

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  • Coupons or no coupons — interesting question. A bigger question is whether KFC’s new grilled chicken taste any good. Grilled chicken is a gamble for the KFC brand. Even the best promotions will fail if the product stinks.

    Dan Greenfield’s last blog post..Seeking Actionable Intelligence from Search

  • It is really pretty good. Much healthier.

  • Josh Wellington


    you hear that you KFC bastards!!


  • Class!

  • Sid Samant

    Read more about Rodger Eaton’s apology at–apologies-part-i

  • If they will honor all the coupons that were printed. I see it as something good for KFC. I didn’t get my coupon on time. By the time my dad told me it was too late. I think they should just have a day where they fullfill all the requested. So they can do it in one day and get it over with. I stilll like El Pollo Loco better, it is really done on open flame. Also on their website they say they would take competitors coupons. So I took some down to the El Pollo loco and talked to the manager (which it said to do on their website). At first there was a family meal from KFC and it had 14 pieces. So the El Pollo Loco said they would give me the 14 pieces even though they don’t have a 14 piece meal to match the KFC one which was great, but my dad said it’s too much cause we didn’t need to get that much chicken.

    So we got about 10 pieces with 3 small sides and 2 packs of (2) tortillas which was pretty good price and I ordered 2 loco salads also which are on the dollar menu. So that was still a great price, that came out to 13 and some change. But the manager said I’m gonna give you a discount for just bringing in the coupons from the competitor and chosing them obviously over KFC. So it’s like I got the loco salads free. Then also my dad joked about giving us free soda and she said okay. So we got 2 loco salads and 2 sodas free, which saved us at least 4 dollars if not 5 or 6.

    So this can go good for either place if they play it right. But I do think it is right that they should get money from corporate to back up the franchises. So it’s good for everybody and they stay in business. Competition is good in business, I think.

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  • kams912

    I’m not your average stupid consumer, and for me to fall for this bait and switch really pissed me off. KFC and the Marketing Demon Oprah had no doubt that people would arrive with their coupon in hand wanting a free meal, and when one was not given they assumed that people would just say “O’ well, I’m here I might as well eat” but not this sucker! I’m done with KFC FOREVER!

  • vsears

    I went to KFC to check out my Oprah coupon deal. While I was in KFC there was a total of four customers and an abundance of grilled chicken and it was less than two hours until closing! I was told that the coupons were not being honored. I was given a “Dear Valued Customer” form to complete and attach my original coupon, place in an stamped envelope and return to KFC. I was told I would receive another coupon for a “free meal at a later date”, PLUS a free Pepsi! If KFC could not honor the first coupon, I may be directed to complete a second form and mail it. What assurance do I have that there will not be run on “free meal plus Pepsi at a later day” coupons?

    I asked for a manager. I asked her to help me understand why the coupon would not be honored since there was plenty grilled chicken? She explained that if my coupon was honored, it would not be fair to others. But, I could purchase the meal my coupon offered. I’m going to Popeye”s from now on!

  • KFC should really go back to fundamentals. Their chicken is too greasy. I remember when it was chicken to die for.

    Now if you buy KFC chicken and let it cool, you got blobs of coagulated grease clinging to the pieces of chicken and it is not really appetizing at all. When I was young we always bought KFC chicken when we went camping or hunting and that was one of the main meals. It was so good then, you could even eat it could. Now it gives me a sick feeling to the stomach to eat it cold.

    Some franchises are even worse. SOme are “refrying” their chicken and making it even greasier. I watched one outfit in Denver “prep” a batch by deep frying it and then putting it on a rack. Then I watched them take another rack off and deep fry it again. I also have received chicken that was not fully cooked from them and had to take it back.

    QC and fundamentals is where KFC needs to go and badly if they need to boost the bottom line.

  • Ed

    Well it didn't turn into a finger licking good experience for me. They refused to honor my coupon saying that if I filled out a form they'd mail me another coupon? They said they didn't expect the large number of people coming at once and they needed to order enough chicken. What really happened was people used programs to print coupons and sold them on ebay. They obviously have no way to track and make sure people only printed 4 coupons. This pissed me off and now I won't be going back to KFC so they turned an opportunity into loosing a customer for good. Stupid move KFC.

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  • I think this was so funny! I own a free stuff blog adn the most traffic I ever had was when I listed this deal. I actually went up to 1000 visitors a day where I was only at 500,..I'm sorry it ended. I hope Oprah offers something else free and soon!

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    Something for nothing + Black people =

  • Thanks you everybady

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