CAMPAIGNS: Crisis Management - KFC fights with beak and claw

Client: KFC
Campaign: Damage limitation of hoax e-mail
PR Team: Freud Communications
Timescale: 11 - 14 Jan 2000
Budget: Within retainer

Client: KFC

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

this nature.

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.

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