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‘Be more like Kanye’: How KFC found its swagger

From its 'Shut up and take my money' ads to its cheeky FCK apology over in the UK, KFC has recently embraced its inner Kanye. On stage at Mumbrella's Retail Marketing Summit yesterday, Annabel Fribence, acting chief marketing officer at KFC, explored the left-of-centre mantras which enabled the brand to find its swagger.

KFC’s acting chief marketing officer Annabel Fribence has claimed halving the brand’s free-to-air television budget, launching a new ‘Shut Up and Take my Money’ brand positioning, taking risks, being “more Kanye” and driving emotional connection through advertising are the key mantras which helped fast food giant KFC find its swagger.

Fribence told the audience at Mumbrella’s Retail Marketing Summit that those mantras are how “KFC got its mojo back”, adding that the way KFC “found its swagger” was not textbook.

“We have definitely broken more marketing rules than we have followed, and some would say we are a bunch of cowboys lost in a corporate world,” Fribence told the room.

Pride, confidence, love and realising you aren’t at the centre of anyone’s universe were some of the ways KFC found its feet in the fast food sector, however Fribence said the brand also instilled a number of marketing mantras, including “be more Kanye”.

“Kanye has a total blind spot when it comes to his weaknesses, but he has a ridiculous unwavering belief in his strengths.”

The chief marketer said five years ago KFC was the type of brand which apologised, never answered the phone to media and focused too much on its consumer research and competitors.

Source: Twitter @Launch_Group

“To be more Kanye, we had to break the number one rule in marketing: we had to stop listening to what our consumer research was telling us.

“We had to stop watching our competitors and trying to copy every single one of their moves.”

Fribence said the brand lost sight of what it was good at and why it was in business in the first place.

“We are fucking good at deep frying chicken,” the marketer said, explaining how the brand went “soul searching” to find out why people even came to KFC stores in the first place.

“We had to get our fried chicken back into the centre of the conversation, and just like Kanye we had to own it, no apologising, all guns blazing, full pride in fried,” Fribence said.

Discussing KFC’s recent chicken shortage crisis in the UK, the acting chief marketer said the brands apology was proof of the Kanye mantra.

“FCK we’re sorry was right on tone for us… it was met with that same level of swagger. Now the brand globally is trying to represent itself in the same way.”

The second mantra KFC now lives by is the idea that “the heart eats first”.

Fribence said KFC briefed its creative agency of 26 years, Ogilvy, to make its customers feel.

“Emotion drives action, no one really wants to engage in the rational brain. We had 50 years of TV ads where we told our customers exactly what is in the product.

“We just want them to feel the desire to have KFC,” the brand told its creative agency back in 2014.

By embracing the idea of allowing its consumers to “feel” that desire, KFC saw a 200% sales increase compared to test advertising six months previously.

“No-one actually gives a shit about you” is the next mantra touted by Fribence, which was implemented as a response to the growing problem of attention deficit.

“Customers are not listening, they are totally disengaged and it’s really one of the biggest issues we face as marketers today, the attention deficit disorder of our world.”

The marketer pointed out how audiences are consuming content faster than ever before, which is why the brand has moved away from the traditional 30 second spot to 15 and six second ads.

“As marketers we need to let go of the idea that we can only build emotional connections through long-format storytelling.

“[We’ve] been holding hands with our creative agency to re-train ourselves. How do you tell product-centric stories that illicit an emotion in six seconds? It is critical to realise you can do it in short form.”

Fribence said moving away from longer-form content hasn’t just changed the way the brand views creative, but it has also overhauled its entire media strategy.

The marketer said 30 second commercials now only make up around 10% of KFC’s media buying.

Fribence said KFC also lives by the rule “it’s better to be a weird bird in a room full of pigeons.”

The brand needed to ensure its media dollars weren’t being wasted and deliver cut-through, distinctive advertising.

“It was the risky work that we were afraid of. Why? Because people would notice it? Because people would talk about it? Isn’t that actually what we are trying to do?

“Why did we feel better signing off work that felt familiar, that looked like everyone else’s, that felt like we had seen it before? Because nobody would notice and you would keep your job?

“We now believe it’s riskier to be overlooked than to be considered an oddball,” she told the room.

Fitzy and Wippa star in a KFC ad

Fribence said although watching a big brand campaign is rewarding, 90% of KFC’s media buy goes to its retail engine and to the spots which are actually driving a sales result.

“The reality is, the majority of what people see is your retail work. Retail is your brand.

“The brand campaign is a moment in time that costs a bomb and is quickly forgotten.”

This brought the acting chief marketing officer of KFC to the brand’s next mantra: “think like a brand and act like a retailer.”

“To do bold distinctive work on your retail line, you cannot let your core fundamentals slip, you cannot take your eye of sales,” she emphasised.

Bravery is another pivotal marketing mantra the brand used to help it find its swagger in a saturated market.

Before launching its recent brand platform, Shut Up and Take My Money, the marketer said it was “scary”.

“Bravery should feel uncomfortable. If you’re looking at creative and you are easily getting green lights from legal, from customer service, the GM, it probably isn’t that brave.”

KFC’s bravery did not start on TV, the marketer said, instead the brand learnt how to have opinions through Facebook.

The brand began engaging in “banter” with its customers on Facebook, finding the less KFC spoke as a corporate advertiser and the more it spoke to its customers like “KFC your mate”, the more its customers and fans responded.

“It is in this channel that we found how we should speak, what it was like to have opinions and where we could have fun and how we could show our brand voice.”

“Not everyone is going to love you,” the marketer said, which is another mantra for the fast food chain.

“To have purpose, you have got to have values, you have got to have opinions, and any opinion is always going to be met with someone with an opposing opinion, so to be a brand that’s loved and a brand with purpose you need to let go of this idea of being able to build universal love,” she said.

“We channeled our inner Kanye, we let the heart eat first, we acknowledged that no one gave a shit, we aspired to be the weird bird in a room full of pigeons and we started to think like a brand and act like a retailer,” Fribence concluded.

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