Sunday, September 13, 2015

Kentucky Fried Controversy

Emma Perrin
Twitter: Emma_Perrin17

I found the article about KFC by Bob Garfield to be an intriguing read. He writes about Kentucky Fried Chicken's long-time struggle with portraying its brand honestly and his personal disgust at their Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation campaign, during which they donated 50 cents to said charity for each "pink" bucket of fried chicken sold. 

I share Garfield's confusion and concern at the marketing decisions of both KFC and the Komen Foundation, but I can also see why the partnership might have seemed like a good idea in theory. KFC is undoubtedly a successful and identifiable brand. From Komen's perspective, a partnership with such a brand probably seemed relatively harmless and inevitably profitable, despite glaring conflicts between the two brands' images and general function in society.

In turn, I can also see the reasoning behind KFC's effort to develop a philanthropic image. In this era of communication and marketing, it is almost a necessity for well-known brands to have an affiliation with some sort of charitable activity, as this article explains. But as this same article explains on page 3, said philanthropic action has to make sense for each individual brand, and hypocrisy between altruism and product/service cannot exist: "Corporate philanthropy is most effective in brand development when funds and in-kind contributions are concentrated on issues related to your business interests."

It is clear that the "business interests" at hand in this instance are not related in any way. Were I part of the public relations team for KFC, I would have sought out a partner organization and cause that did not blatantly clash with their own famous product- a greasy and unabashedly unhealthy fast food. There are multiple examples of notoriously unhealthy food franchises successfully creating a philanthropic image for themselves without conflicting interests and hypocrisy, including the Ronald McDonald House Charity (McDonalds) and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption (Wendy's).

Although the conflict between KFC and Komen seems obvious from a strategic and professional standpoint, I don't believe KFC engaged in an unethical or dishonest practice with this campaign. I cannot, in any of my research, find any evidence to the fact that KFC promoted any misleading health information about their own food in this campaign. (The previous statement is exclusively focused on this particular example. Other instances of KFC's manipulation of their brand's health are notable, but that would be better saved for a different blog post.) I would hypothesize that the campaign did not make the difference between someone eating KFC and a healthy meal. Rather, I imagine it probably put KFC slightly higher in mental rankings of fast food restaurants by the consumer group that was already going to eat fast food at that time anyway. I don't believe anyone was misled into thinking they were eating something healthy for themselves, nor do I believe that anyone felt morally obligated to buy a pink chicken bucket because of the secondary benefit in the fight against breast cancer. Realistically, it probably just put breast cancer awareness on the minds of people who were going to dine at the restaurant anyway, with a small percentage of exceptions. It certainly caused a headache for their public relations team, but as far as morally repugnant deceit by a corporation goes, I think this is relatively tame.

I am actually more interested in Komen's stake in all of this. On the official Komen website, under the "What We Do" tab, the foundation insists that "our mission is pretty simple: to save lives and end breast cancer forever." To me, it is more morally questionable that they either sought out or, at the very least, agreed to a partnership with KFC. A 2010 ABC News article assures that the correlation between the consumption of unhealthy food (such as fried chicken) and breast cancer is medically identifiable.

This time, as I put myself in the position of a strategic communicator for Komen, I would have strayed away from a partnership with a brand whose product goes not-so-indirectly against the mission of the foundation. It seems almost less ethical of them to join in the partnership, as they very well might have encouraged their own loyal supporters to eat friend chicken at KFC for no other reason than to support the cause. I find it interesting that I have yet to see any discussion in the blogs of that side of the issue thus far.

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