Put aside the fact that the Tivo-friendly KFC commercial with the embedded coupon code for the new Buffalo Snacker is no longer news. I’ve been pondering it for some time. I think it really was clever and creative, but I have my doubts about the sustainability of such a tactic. Moreover, I wouldn’t be surprised if the news coverage and water-cooler discussion generated by the novelty of the campaign achieved far more value than the actual television viewers who watched the spot in slow motion to discover the “Buffalo” code and redeem the coupon. I’m fulfilling that prophecy right here.
But KFC actually summarized for itself what is wrong with this strategy. This morning, catching up on a few past NPR technology podcasts, I almost couldn’t believe my ears when I heard a KFC/TiVo story (from February 28) with the words “promotional campaign a strong success” juxtaposed with the words “and it forces them to look at the commercial.” Straight from KFC itself!
So this campaign is a success because it forces advertising-wary, TiVo-embracing, elusive television viewers to view a 30-second spot? Is forced-engagement really how a brand should be positioned? This promotion practically pays viewers to sit through an otherwise generic ad – not unlike late-night informercials for Florida time shares (“we’ll give you a free trip if you come sit through our sales pitch”). Is this method really going to spawn product sampling and subsequent brand loyalty? Forced engagement turns people off; it’s what causes them to love their TiVos in the first place! I don’t think any brand damage was done here – and I really admire experimentation, to be sure – but I wonder how many more of these stunts we’ll see.
The full NPR transcription is not publicly available online, but here are excerpts from the story (via LexisNexis) by NPR’s Adam Hochberg:
Ms. LORI SHALLOW (Spokeswoman, KFC): This was a great way to tell people who are using TiVo, and it’s currently only about 9 percent of the population, but to say, hey instead of fast forwarding through the commercial, go ahead and slow down and look at it. And it forces them to look at the commercial and see our new product introduction.
HOCHBERG: [Sean] Carton (who directs an ad agency in Baltimore) considers the KFC commercials an interesting experiment. But he adds it will take more than free sandwiches to keep advertising relevant to the digital generation. Carton says commercials will have to become more relevant and more entertaining so people actually want to watch them. Others in the advertising business say the best way to battle the threat from digital technology is to embrace it. At the New York agency Universal McCann, David Cohen says the same technology that makes devices like TiVo work also provides new ways for advertisers to interact with consumers.
HOCHBERG: As for the commerce of selling chicken, KFC calls its promotional campaign a strong success. So far, more than 70,000 people have requested the free sandwich coupons. The company doesn’t know how many of them actually viewed the commercial as opposed to learning the secret code from friends or from internet chat groups. But that detail is less important to KFC than the publicity the promotion has created. Adam Hochberg, NPR News.
I echo Sean Carton:"it will take more than free sandwiches to keep advertising relevant to the digital generation. Carton says commercials will have to become more relevant and more entertaining so people actually want to watch them."
Btw, I actually love KFC every once in a while (like after a night of partying). It’s so greasy, but it’s so good. I’ve eaten an entire bucket before! I may pity the promotion, but I applaud the product.