Campaign: Damage limitation of hoax e-mail
PR Team: Freud Communications
Timescale: 11 - 14 Jan 2000
Budget: Within retainer
Earlier this year fast-food outlet KFC became the victim of a hoax
e-mail that originated from the US and made its way over to the UK. The
e-mail claimed that research conducted by the University of New
Hampshire revealed that KFC used genetically mutated poultry. It
described the birds as ’featherless’, ’feetless’ and ’beakless’, and
stated that they were kept alive by tubes inserted into them. The e-mail
urged consumers to contact their local restaurants and demand the return
of ’real chicken’.
To minimise damage to the brand’s reputation, ensuring that any media
coverage made it clear that the e-mail was a hoax.
Strategy and Plan
On Tuesday 11 January the e-mail entered the UK. The nature of e-mails
means that they snowball easily.
As with all damage limitation exercises action had to be taken
The first step was to evaluate the importance of the issue, the second
to decide on the strategy needed to counteract it, and the final stage
was to implement that decision.
The content of a KFC statement was the most important aspect of managing
the campaign. In this case the message was simple: to deflect the issue
from just being a KFC story by explaining that it was not the first
company to be subjected to an aggressive and unsubstantiated attack of
Secondly, it categorically stated that the e-mail was wholly untrue,
supporting this with a statement from the University of New Hampshire
denying any involvement in the alleged research. And lastly, it
communicated a positive brand message, stating that the high quality of
the product was a result of traditional rearing processes - in line with
what consumers would expect from their supermarket - and that all
ingredients met industry standards.
KFC branches and the restaurant’s consumer care line were flooded with
callers querying the e-mail, and there were a large number of calls from
the national and regional media to the company’s press office,
establishing that the e-mail was travelling quickly across the UK.
Freud contacted the University of New Hampshire which agreed to post a
notice on its web site to confirm that it had nothing to do with the
’research’. Likewise, KFC posted a statement refuting the claims on
their web site.
A statement responding to consumer concerns was issued to every KFC
branch manager, as well as the customer services team at head office.
All media calls were directed to Freud Communications.
The preference was for the media not to carry the story, but it was
decided that if one tabloid covered the issue then it would provide a
public record, as well as discouraging any other newspaper from running
it. An exclusive interview was therefore given to the Mirror.
Measurement and Evaluation
Approximately 60 of KFC’s 400 restaurants received consumer requests for
clarification of the situation. A similar number of calls were received
by the customer careline. In all cases customers were happy with the
response. The Mirror story was accurate, and communicated the key
messages accurately. There was no perceived loss of business as a result
of the e-mail.
The hoax e-mail, despite its claims, could potentially have damaged KFC
sales. However, because of the prompt response, serious damage to the
brand was avoided. The nature of the internet, however, means that no
company can assume a negative issue is ever really dead and buried.