KFC has escaped censure by the ad watchdog over a TV ad, featuring two young black men who turned into animated chickens and strutted to hip-hop music, despite complaints that it perpetuated negative ethnic stereotypes.
The ad, by agency Mother, opened with the duo in a KFC restaurant waiting at the counter for their food order. The voiceover stated: “Get 10 KFC Mini Fillets for £4.99 and feel like a big deal.”
When the men collected their food, their legs turned into chicken legs and feathers floated around them, as they strutted and danced to hip hop on the way to their table, while other customers looked on.
However, the spot did not go down well with some viewers, who believed the ad played on the stereotype created in colonial America, as a way of mocking enslaved people of black origin, that all black people loved to eat fried chicken.
Some also noted that the ad depicted them in streetwear dancing to a hip hop soundtrack and challenged the Advertising Standards Authority to investigate whether the ad was likely to cause serious offence.
In response, KFC said the activity was intended to capture the “winning” feeling consumers might get when purchasing a special offer or deal. The transformation of the two men into animated chickens, along with the change in lighting and bold music track were intended to express the transformative feeling of saving money and feeling like a “big deal”.
The fast-food giant said that while the two young men were the lead actors, people of various ethnicities were featured sitting in the KFC restaurant. Therefore, it did not believe the ad implied people of any particular race were more or less likely to be a KFC guest or to eat the product.
KFC explained the two lead actors were brothers and were chosen as a precautionary measure to help reduce the potential for Covid-19 to spread.
The ad was one of a series of six ads which featured a range of different actors of various ethnicities in the leading roles, including white actors as the lead.
TV ad clearance agency Clearcast said that during the initial approval process for the ad, it considered previous KFC campaigns that used a similar creative where the actors’ heads were animated to look like chickens.
It said all those previous ads featured a hip-hop inspired soundtrack and young men and women wearing street clothes, doing activities associated with youth culture, such as basketball, BMXing and dancing.
Those ads were instrumental in it decision to clear the ad. They said it was important for an ad to be relevant to the demographic it targeted, and in KFC’s case the key target audience was people in their late teens and twenties, so the music and the actors reflected that and were integral to the success of the ad.
In its ruling, the ASA concluded that the ad presented the young men as fun-loving, confident and playful, feeling happy because they got a money-saving deal on their food, which was reflected in their smiling faces, strutting walks and dancing.
The animated chicken legs, feathers and music added to the light-hearted feel of the ad.
It said it did not consider the ad suggested that all black people ate fried chicken, or were more likely to do so than any other ethnic group.
Clearing the ad for future broadcast, the ASA ruled: “While we acknowledged that some viewers who saw the ad and were aware of the existence of the historic negative ethnic stereotype might find it distasteful, we considered that the ad was unlikely to be seen as perpetuating that stereotype and we therefore concluded the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.”
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