KFC’s replacement of its “famously soggy” fries with thicker, rustic fries with the skins left on, is the ultimate example of a highly successful brand nimbly responding to social media criticism.
It all dates back to August 2014 and a tweet from Charlie Burness complaining about the fries. She’d taken her mum for a birthday meal at KFC and they were both sorely disappointed with the fries.
I've got to say, KFC are riding solely on their chicken because Christ, those are crap fries.
— Burnessie (@charliejburness) August 11, 2014
Others chimed in with similar complaints about KFC’s fries.
how can KFC be so good at chicken and so bad at fries?
— Adam Marsh (@AdumOnline) December 16, 2016
No one likes your fries.
The entire world.
— Upgrade ⬆️ (@upgrade_music) February 5, 2018
Last month, KFC UK & Ireland contacted Burness and other critics to ask if they could promote their tweets as a tease for their new fries. “I thought it was quite clever actually,” said Burness. “Everyone knows [KFC’s] got a reputation for not delivering on the fries. They’re kind of soggy, like they’ve been preheated as soon as you get them.”
Tweets appeared on bus shelters with the message: “You told us no one liked our fries. So new ones are coming soon. Yours sincerely, KFC.”
You told us no one liked our fries.
So new ones are coming soon.
— KFC UK & Ireland (@KFC_UKI) November 2, 2018
KFC has been testing its new rustic chips for more than a year and promises they are thicker, crispier and taller (better for dipping in ketchup) and chunkier (to stay hot longer).
“We don’t change things on a whim—the Colonel’s Original Recipe chicken hasn’t changed since he finalised it in 1940,” said Jack Hinchliffe, innovation director at KFC UK & Ireland. “This was different though. We heard the nation’s outcry. We read the brutal tweets. We had to step up our fries game.”
There’s a reason behind it https://t.co/sEajjsBkEk
— Jay (@JayPatelAFC) November 2, 2018
The fast-food chain is the world’s second-largest restaurant chain (as measured by sales) after McDonald’s, selling around 14 million pieces of chicken weekly, approximately 700 million pieces a year, while nearly 280 million portions of KFC fries are sold every year, equivalent to half a billion potatoes that would fill 80 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
With characteristic British humor, KFC responded to a shortage of chicken and subsequent location closures with this full-page apology ad showing an empty bucket of chicken with crumbs spilling out, and the KFC logo letters switched around to read “FCK.”
— John McCarthy (@JohnGeeMcCarthy) November 5, 2018
— James Herring (@itsjamesherring) February 23, 2018
As social media continues to level the consumer feedback playing field, KFC illustrates that a lead brand is never immune from criticism—and a cheeky, mea culpa is often the best response.