The KFC Controversy: Chicken, Utensils, and Cultural Competency

In addition to chicken, KFC is frying up controversy.

On August 24, KFC Canada’s Director of Marketing, Azim Akhtar, tweeted a few billboard images from the company’s new “It’s finger lickin’ good” campaign. The ads were meant to be playful, suggesting that utensils aren’t needed to enjoy KFC chicken. However, many users quickly pointed out that all of the images featured Black people eating fried chicken, perpetuating harmful stereotypes.

Upon receiving pushback, Akhtar addressed the issue on social media, apologizing for the oversight and sharing a video version of the ad that featured a diverse cast enjoying KFC with their hands. However, this attempt to provide broader context only left social media users questioning why the billboard images didn’t reflect the diversity of the commercial.

The Importance of Culturally Competent Marketing

The controversy surrounding KFC’s campaign highlights the importance of culturally competent marketing. While fried chicken itself is not inherently racial, the historical context of North America’s stereotypes linking Black people to the consumption of fried chicken cannot be ignored.

This episode is not an isolated incident. We saw a similar misstep earlier this summer with the Barbie movie’s promotion, where a social media account shared insensitive engagement related to the history of nuclear weapons in Japan. To prevent such mistakes, marketing teams must prioritize cultural competence in their strategies.

Steps Towards Cultural Competency in Marketing

To avoid culturally insensitive content, marketing teams should take the following steps:

  • Understand relevant historical context: It is crucial to be aware of historical stereotypes and how they have affected different demographics. What may seem harmless to one group can be deeply offensive to another.
  • Enlist diverse teams: Having a team of marketers with diverse backgrounds and experiences can provide valuable insights and help avoid blind spots when it comes to cultural sensitivity.
  • Examine and question biases: Constantly scrutinize and deconstruct biases that may manifest in marketing content. This introspection can help ensure that messaging is inclusive and respectful.

While it’s true that controversial content can generate buzz, not all engagement is positive. Culturally insensitive marketing erodes trust and can overshadow any positive experiences customers may have with a brand. By prioritizing cultural competence, companies can create campaigns that resonate with diverse audiences and strengthen their connection with customers.

In Conclusion

The recent controversy surrounding KFC’s “It’s finger lickin’ good” campaign serves as a reminder of the importance of cultural competency in marketing. Brands must be mindful of historical contexts and avoid perpetuating harmful stereotypes. By embracing diversity, challenging biases, and considering the impact of their content, marketing teams can create campaigns that are inclusive and respectful. Let this be a lesson for the industry as a whole to strive for better representation and sensitivity in their marketing efforts.