No Such Thing As Bad Publicity? An Unlikely Tale from KFC and Leeds United

No Such Thing As Bad Publicity? An Unlikely Tale from KFC and Leeds United

KFC and Leeds United. Two big brands certainly not often mentioned in the same breath. However, recently, they have had something very much in common. Or, rather, their marketing teams have.

Both made clever, creative use of digital to turn negative publicity into overwhelming, widespread exposure. How did they do it, and what’s the lesson for marketers?

Crest complications and poultry problems…

Leeds invoked the wrath of its sprawling fanbase by suddenly introducing what was labelled a rather cartoon-ish, Americanised badge. The backlash amounted to in excess of over 75,000 fans petitioning the Chairman to scrap the design, and an almost never-ending stream of Gaviscon logo-inspired satire.

KFC, on the other hand, encountered an issue with one of their new suppliers, resulting in the US company’s 900-strong UK base quickly running out of fowl. Over half of these branches were forced to temporarily close. A poultry effort.

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With a dearth of chicken and a controversial badge causing a whirlwind of publicity, KFC and Leeds United harnessed this exposure to elevate brand awareness and re-engage with their disillusioned stakeholders.

A marketing campaign of two halves

You’re probably not going to be in contention for Man of the Match if you bang in an own goal. Clearly, things are different in the world of marketing.

After discovering the depth and passion which met with the new badge proposition, Leeds moved within 24 hours to scrap the design. 

In an about-turn, decision-makers at Leeds swallowed their pride, instead opening up the badge redesign process to its fans, followed by a vote. This channeled the love and energy of the fans into the Leeds brand itself. As well as harnessing the passion and skill of graphic designers from its own ranks, the brand was now listening – and no doubt, if we trust democracy, will yield a mutually-agreeable result.

The plaudits for this decision were certainly forthcoming, with warm sentiment pouring out for Chairman Andrea Radrizzani. There was something orchestral about the badge furore – criticism was allowed to reach a crescendo before its abrupt stop.

Vilified only hours earlier for marginalising its legions of supporters, Leeds was now universally hailed as a ‘brand with values’ – turning a rather authoritarian badge imposition into an open, creative and fan-driven exercise. Back of the net!

Winging it

As soon as KFC branches began to shut their doors, news and hysteria spread like wildfire.

KFC’s name was splattered all over local and national radio airwaves as well as our mobile, TV and computer screens. With news the closure of over half of KFC’s branches, generous news reels permeated even the ostensibly credible BBC News at Six programme – for quite a few days.

The effect? KFC’s brand unavoidably, consistently placed front-and-centre in everyone’s minds. KFC managed to string the story out with some well-timed creative elements, such as this rather cheeky ‘apology’ advert in Metro, courtesy of agency Mother London.

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To make sure everyone was ready to lap-up some finger lickin’ good chicken for the eventual re-opening, KFC launched a website with up-to-date information about each branch’s status.

With widespread, viral exposure for the KFC brand on almost all platforms and news programs, this crisis management campaign eggceeded all eggspectations. That pun’s not gonna fly, is it?

What is the lesson for marketers?

So, about that old saying – ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’. This could be true, but only if you play your cards right – as Leeds and KFC have done.

Some lessons from these episodes?

Be sure to employ some creative imagination, good humour and honesty in admitting your mistakes. This formula worked a treat for Leeds and KFC, using the negative publicity to kick up valuable, widespread coverage.

Don’t worry, though. You don’t need a humongous crisis as an excuse to start gaining more brand exposure – our digital marketing team would love to hear about your PR, content and social media needs.

Fancy a good ol’ chat about the value of digital to your business? Drop us a line!