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KFC goes viral. Is their Operations team ready?

2009 March 31

 When is the last time you ate at KFC?  What was your experience?  Was the store clean?  How was the service?  How was the food?

For me, it’s been a while.  A long while.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time I went to KFC.  Now, truth be told, my wife and I don’t eat a lot of fast food.  Even when our kids were small KFC rarely made the shortlist.  McDonald’s was always quick and the kids liked the playground toys.  Wendy’s had great burgers, chili and the amazing Frosty. Even Arby’s was OK in a pinch but Kentucky Fried Chicken wasn’t even on our radar.

It wasn’t the food at KFC that kept us away.  In fact, extra crispy at KFC is pretty darned good!  What kept us away was the blank stares on the people behind the counter.  You could just tell they hated their jobs and didn’t really care about the company or its customers.  It was the dirty tables and disgusting bathrooms.  We had lots of other choices and frankly, those other choices  just worked better of us than KFC.

So I found it interesting yesterday when two pieces of news about KFC hit my desk.  First was an article I read in Advertising Age about a new viral campaign launched by KFC.  The company is fixing potholes for free in their home city of Louisville,  and the city is allowing KFC to brand those pothole repairs with a chalked-on message saying that the road has been “Re-Freshed by KFC.  It’s all part of KFC’s new “Fresh” campaign.

The pothole idea, as expected, delivered viral buzz.  A twitter search showed lots of KFC pothole buzz yesterday, and a lot of news organizations picked up the story – even a slot on MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann show which you can see by clicking here.

I understand viral marketing, yet for the life of me I don’t see how asphalt and chickens go together.  Actually I do, but it’s those types of thoughts that get CMO’s fired.

The second post I saw was a blog in the New York Times by Steven D. Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago titled “Someting to Think About While You Wait in Line at KFC.  While the rest of the blogosphere was focused on KFC and road repair, Mr. Levitt was sharing a recent bad experience he had at KFC; an experience he says has been repeated for as long as he can remember.

In looking through yesterday’s blog posts about KFC, and through the many comments on those blog posts it’s pretty obvious that KFC has a service problem.  A BIG service problem.  In simpler times (think last year) those operational abnormalities might have been overshadowed by clever marketing and some stellar advertising. 

In today’s world Operations and Marketing are equal partners, and it’s imperative that OPERATIONS and MARKETING are on the same page so that Operations can deliver the brand promise made by the marketing folks. That’s because the social networking  part of social marketing has put consumers in charge of the message.  

And because the consumer is in charge of the message, and because it appears that KFC has operational issues, here’s the likely outcome of KFC’s viral campaign.

I post the article about KFC filling potholes on my Facebook page and I re-tweet the article on Twitter.  A few of my friends and family members see the story and decide to go to KFC for lunch.  Once at KFC the brand promise doesn’t even come close to meeting their expectations.  So, while they sit at KFC, they begin to update their status on all of their social networks with a message like “KFC Sucks”.  Now that message gets forwarded, and posted and re-posted and re-tweeted.  You get the picture. 

From what I’ve seen online so far – that’s exactly what I predict will happen with KFCs viral campaign.

Is your company prepared just in case your viral marketing campaign works?  Is there an open door between operastions and marketing?  Can you deliver the promise? 

But let’s not end it all on a sad note.  Enjoy this video posted on You Tube. It’s ‘s not an official KFC commercial but it could be; maybe it should be.  It contains some very inappropriate language, so if you are easily offended, please don’t watch.


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