At a time when companies like PepsiCo and General Mills are pledging to develop healthier products, KFC is causing a stir with the promotion of the limited time-only Double Down, a sans-bread bacon and cheese sandwich held together with fried chicken pieces.
The fast food brand, which introduced a healthier grilled chicken option last May, is just one of many food companies attempting to effectively communicate to dual audiences— using a diverse menu and messaging that focuses on that variety.
“Whether it's Kentucky grilled chicken, which is better for you, or the Double Down, all your communications is geared toward reaching those audiences,” says Rick Maynard, PR manager at KFC.
Those audiences may range from moms looking to lower calories with buckets of grilled chicken to “heavy fast food users” looking for portable items like sandwiches.
Maynard says the target audience for the Double Down is young men, prompting a need for a different marketing campaign.
To reach this demographic, KFC worked with AOR Weber Shandwick to introduce a “significant online program” using Twitter, Facebook, and KFC.com, which Maynard notes has undergone a complete transformation as part of the campaign.
Cathy Kapica, SVP of global health and wellness at Ketchum, notes it is possible to communicate to different audiences without alienating one or the other, especially if it's a short-term strategy.
“I think what it comes down to, from a PR perspective, is know your audience and where they hang out,” she says. “[The campaign] gets to novelty, immediacy, and the short-term needs people want to have.”
Though this kind of product and short-term launch may currently be an effective promotional approach for the brand, nutritional value will ultimately win over consumers across segments, says Nancy Glick, SVP and director of health and nutrition at MS&L Group.
“I think ultimately the reputation of brands and of companies is going to require probably being more in line with the aspirational goals of people to be healthy,” she notes.
Increased consumer, corporate, and media attention on food-induced health issues did, in fact, impact KFC's communications strategy during a testing phase last summer, as the media honed in on the Double Down's nutritional value.
“There were a lot of inaccurate reports regarding calories,” said Maynard. “This go around we were front and center about providing that information.”
Heather Oldani, director of US communications at McDonald's, which faces the same issues promoting both its healthy and high-calorie items to its consumers, explains that communicating nutritional information is key.
“That's our communications approach,” she said. “We're also saying there's a wide range of choices and within the choices ways to customize them to meet your dietary needs.”
For example, Oldani says the company uses a direct-to-consumer communications model to encourage consumers to customize their orders if they want to be healthier.
“Social media has become a key channel within the last 12 to 14 months,” she says. “We're engaging in a two-way conversation more so than we ever have before and getting from them what they want from us and sharing with them what you can get from our menu.”
For a brand like KFC, communicating variety to its audiences is most important.
“Whether the consumer is looking for something more indulgent or lower in fat, we have options,” Maynard says.