‘A banjo among violins’: finding KFC’s voice

Mother and KFC have been defying category conventions and expectations since we started working together in 2017. From our first campaign ‘The Whole Chicken’, featuring (*gasp*) live chickens in an ad for fried chicken; to learnings from previous crises (2018’s FCKing supply hiccup); we are now armed with a subversive brand tone and great client/agency relationship that has been years in the making.

A close relationship unlocks great reactivity

Unfortunately - or fortunately depending on how you look at it - being in crisis was an all-too-familiar terrain for KFC and Mother. Back in February 2018, the worst happened. KFC ran out of chicken. Most brands would have played it safe with a bland apology and hoped it would all blow over quickly. But not KFC. Despite only working together for a short amount of time, our close relationship allowed us to react ahead of being formally briefed. When the time was right, we put out a funny but humble apology. Running in just two publications but seen by what felt like the entire world, it pivoted our entire marketing calendar into a path to recovery and allowed us to reset the relationship between KFC and the UK public.

And later in March 2020, we pulled our newly launched UK brand campaign because it was centered around prominent fingerlicking - an image then at odds with new coronavirus-avoiding hygiene and safety advice.

Giving 'appropriate' thinking the finger

After the initial dark weeks of lockdown, people started to crave some lightness amongst the doom and gloom in their day. With no new entertainment being made, we started to feel like there was a role for brands to play. Brands dissected the meaning of the ‘new normal’ and went into ‘we’re here for you’ mode. All sensible and appropriate thinking. But not very KFC.

When everything from socialising to advertising was about staying safe, we gave ‘appropriate’ thinking the finger (although we did explicitly caveat that no-one should lick said fingers). At every turn - from insight, to message, to tone - strategy made sure to define, and then deliver, the most inappropriate response. Ignoring all of the Covid-inspired industry wisdom and rules of engagement to champion a distinctive ‘brand out’ approach rooted in our long term brand strategy and tone.

Keeping our chicken fans engaged

Forced to shut up shop, we had to think of a way to keep our fans engaged. Entertainment was the answer. KFC’s in-house social media team jumped on the trend of people trying to recreate KFC at home, and subsequently launched #RateMyKFC to fuel that trend.

We turned our creative attention to an unforeseen opportunity. It became clear people were missing the simple things; fried chicken being one of them, with fans attempting to recreate KFC at home; even going as far as recreating packaging, logos and buckets. So we joined in. Our first foray in pandemic marketing was ‘KFC Clash’, an influencer-based campaign. KFC hosted four influencer ‘clashes’, with superfans competing to be crowned the chicken champion, on IGTV and later reposted on Instagram Stories.

We'll take it from here...

KFC marked its return to business and brand spirit with a tongue in cheek campaign celebrating fans’ mixed attempts at recreating KFC recipes at home. While other brands created heartfelt montages, we created a restaurant re-opening ad which gently roasted our customers for their poor attempts to copy is, while reassuring them that the experts were back in action. The campaign sent the message loud and clear on prime-time TV spots that KFC is back.

"It's ______ _______Good"

KFC’s first ever global campaign. Running at a time when every market was facing the exact same problem, in a way they never had before: a global pandemic, where finger licking is ill-advised. Our response centered around our famous endline which had become deeply and uniquely “inappropriate” because of new hygiene and safety advice. Most brands wouldn’t have dreamed of putting it at the centre of a new brief. In a bold strategic decision, instead of hiding our inappropriate endline we would lean into it and OWN it.

At the heart of the campaign was a mass mainstream media announcement that KFC were no longer using their 64 year old endline because of Covid 19. In OOH, on TV and across social, we ran ads with blurred out endlines and put disclaimers on advertising, warning people not to lick their fingers, in a playful tongue in cheek way.

We followed up with a social campaign that asked people to suggest alternative temporary taglines.

And most recently we extended the fun by “borrowing” famous endlines from other brands as a suggested stopgap for KFC.

No market left behind

We intentionally designed this campaign to be scalable, to suit different markets' budgets or capabilities. And yet, every market enjoyed the benefits of this PR driven fame. Run in 40 countries, but with press coverage in 97, KFC got 2 billion impressions. Brand word of mouth went up almost 4,000% and the week after the campaign saw a global sales uplift of 2%. All without saying our endline even once...we got everyone to say it for us.


As for the results…well they’re finger lickin' good. KFC brand health is at an all time high (YouGov).

+3.9 uplift in penetration pre-Covid19 (2016 - March 2020, Kantar)

UK’s second-most popular dining brand (2021, YouGov)

+12.9 in positive brand impression (2015-2021, YouGov)


KFC 'The World’s Least Appropriate Slogan'

‘A banjo among violins’: finding KFC’s voice

Feel free to get in touch

We'd love to chat

Mother London

+44 (0) 20 7012 1999 [email protected]