KFC has been excoriated by advertising and marketing experts for an immature and salacious social media campaign which was removed just one hour after it was launched due to public backlash .
“WARNING: #NSFW. Something hot and spicy is coming soon,” the tweet from KFC Australia read on Friday, citing a hashtag used to caution users about internet content contains nudity, pornography or profanity.
The text was accompanied by an image of a grinning man lounging on a couch as a surprised woman reached towards his pixelated crotch.
Deakin University senior lecturer in consumer behaviour and advertising Paul Harrison said although some consumers might find the campaign amusing, it would certainly not help the brand.
“I don’t know who is approving it, but if there was anyone at any level above 14 years old running social media, they would have said, ‘nah, probably not the best thing to do’,” he told The New Daily.
“There are much more clever ways to get attention than just using silly old dick jokes.”
In a statement to The New Daily, a company spokesperson said the product marketing roll-out was an “error in judgement” and not intended to offend.
“We overstepped the mark and are sorry for any offence caused,” she said.
Melinda Liszewski, campaign manager at grassroots women’s organisation Collective Shout, said she was “stunned” when it emerged the campaign was genuine.
“I don’t think they have understood offence is not really the reaction people are registering here, it is disgust,” Ms Liszewski told The New Daily.
“We have had to see this ad, with KFC comparing their food to a ‘hand job’ and a penis – which is a real head scratcher – it is nauseating as well as confusing.”
If getting a ‘hot and spicy’ reaction was the intention, the company managed lukewarm at best.
“This is weird. You have made me feel weird,” one confused individual tweeted.
“Today KFC Australia learned that chicken is not THAT sexy,” another said.
‘Lowest form of promotion’
Dr Harrison said it was unlikely to harm sales, but rather create a discourse that sexualised advertising was acceptable.
“[It] is the lowest form of promotion, really,” Dr Harrison said.
Ms Liszewski said the image was reminiscent of Carl’s Jr, a burger chain proud of the ‘sexist, toxic messaging’ traditionally featured in their marketing campaigns.
As a family fast food restaurant, the latest campaign was “bizarre” and “out of context”, she said.
“It demonstrates women are seen as a consumable product, much like the food they are selling.”
Deliberate use of ‘marketing outrage’
Unfortunately, the hot and spicy incident isn’t the first time a KFC ad campaign has gone awry.
A 2010 cricket advertisement for the company’s family bucket showed an uncomfortable white man pacifying rowdy black West Indies supporters with KFC fried chicken.
Meant for an Antipodean audience, it made its way to the United States, where fried chicken was closely associated with detrimental stereotypes of African Americans.
So, did KFC’s latest campaign intend to make the most of media attention stemming from social media outrage? Probably. But it is unlikely to elicit a positive long-term response from customers, experts say.
“It’s a bit like fast fashion – it lives and dies very quickly,” Dr Harrison said.