KFC Reminds Us of the Importance of Culturally Sensitive Marketing

In addition to chicken, KFC is frying up controversy.

On August 24 Azim Akhtar, KFC Canada’s Director of Marketing, tweeted a few billboard images from the company’s new “It’s finger lickin’ good” campaign.

Sorry Utensils, It’s Finger Lickin’ Good.

Latest campaign, I couldn’t be more proud!! pic.twitter.com/ktmN5TrHOS

— Azim A. (@AzimAkhtar_)
August 24, 2023

While the ads are supposed to be playful, suggesting that utensils aren’t needed to enjoy KFC, X users quickly pointed out that all of the images featured Black people eating fried chicken and feed into harmful stereotypes.

Upon receiving the pushback, Akhtar took to X to clarify that the print images were part of a broader campaign and shared a video version of the ad that featured a diverse group of actors casting aside utensils to enjoy KFC with their hands.

My earlier post didn’t capture the full diversity of our latest campaign and I personally apologize for not being more thoughtful in my excitement to share the campaign and only sharing certain photos. Here is the 60-second spot that is more representative of Canada’s diversity… pic.twitter.com/HpeO3nc0f2

— Azim A. (@AzimAkhtar_)
August 26, 2023

Though sharing the video was an attempt to provide broader context, it left social media users wondering why the creative used on the billboards didn’t reflect the diversity of the commercial. Other commentators speculated that the imagery was intentionally used to stir up controversy.

The Importance of Culturally Competent Marketing

While fried chicken is not inherently racial, North America has a history of stereotyping the consumption of fried chicken by Black people, using it as a demeaning trope. Failing to take this historical context into consideration is definitely a misstep for the brand.

We saw another example earlier this summer during the Barbie movie’s promo. The official X account for the Warner Bros. film shared light-hearted responses to fan-made images of Barbie and Oppenheimer. The move was seen as distasteful to Japanese audiences given the history of nuclear weapons used in Japan during World War II. Warner Bros. later issued an apology for the insensitive engagement.

These examples show the importance of culturally competent marketing. To avoid mistakes like this in the future, marketing teams should aim to:

Understand relevant historical context and how different demographics may be impacted by a piece of context
Enlist diverse teams with marketers of different backgrounds and experiences who can provide necessary insights
Constantly examine, question, and deconstruct biases that may show up in their content

While outrage can contribute to virality, not all engagement is good engagement. Culturally insensitive content breaks the audience’s trust and can overshadow potentially positive experiences a customer can have with a brand.

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