From edible nail polish to scented sunscreen: The KFC approach

From finger lickin’ good food to finger lickin’ brilliant marketing campaigns, KFC has proven it has much more to offer to marketers than fried chicken.

The international fast-food brand has the knack for performing outside-the-box stunts which garner international media coverage, reaching millions of potential consumers around the world without an enormous advertising budget.

In August, the international fast-food chain unveiled ‘Colonel Sanders’ Extra Crispy Sunscreen’, an SPF 30 lotion with a fried chicken scent that “leaves you smelling delicious”.

The product had a limited release of 3000 units, available to order for free through a specially created website which served as the only form of marketing conducted by the company.

Through fun PR tactics, like sending out free bottles of the sunscreen to journalists, the story was rapidly picked up by media outlets and soon enough had earned thousands of hits around the world.

It wasn’t the first KFC ploy to attract the attention of the world’s media, with its edible ‘original recipe’ and ‘hot and spicy’ nail varnishes earning lucrative recognition from leading media organisations such as the New York Times and BBC, and their ‘fried chicken keyboard’ stealing the media’s gaze in Japan.

The finger lickingood formula

Media outlets will cover marketing stunts when they believe they have viral potential, since it helps maximise the visitors to their websites. How can marketers replicate this success?

In his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, marketing expert Jonah Berger outlines six common elements to viral content – three of which are clearly visible across KFC’s marketing stunts.

Firstly, KFC’s stunt has social currency, because audiences believe by telling their friends about something as quirky as chicken-scented sunscreen, they will add value to their social status by appearing unique and in-the-know.

Because the sunscreen and edible nail polish are such bizarre ideas, they also linger in the memory, and this strangeness serves as a trigger – the second element of a successful viral campaign. This keeps the stunt fresh in the memory, and whenever an individual goes to the beach or has their nails done, KFC may pop back up again.

Thirdly, the stunts are funny, and therefore have emotional appeal. Humour may not be as popular as awe or a feeling of injustice, which are among the highest-sharing emotions, but audiences also share content that makes them laugh, as you’ve probably noticed if you’re active on social media platforms.

But while these three factors certainly play a role in the campaigns’ success, most important is the fact the stunts have a strong link to the brand, in fact they literally reek of it. Many viral campaigns fail, as they veer too far towards branded advertising, but another failure is when content doesn’t inspire consideration of the company in the audiences’ minds.

These four factors have seen KFC roll out some of the most successful viral campaigns of recent times, and while it helps to be a global household name, marketers can just as easily apply these tactics to their own strategies.

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