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Who Said "Free Chicken?€

William Reed | 5/20/2009, 2:36 p.m.

Thanks to Oprah Winfrey promoting a free meal, Kentucky Fried Chicken is popular again. Demand was so great for coupons good for two pieces of Kentucky Grilled Chicken, two individual sides and a biscuit at participating KFC restaurants in the U.S. that the site experienced significant €technical difficulties.€ The overwhelming interest in the promotion to download the grilled chicken coupon amounted to a power struggle between those who secured coupons and those who did not.

And, in spite of the mother who complained, €I€ve been trying to access the KFC coupon for over an hour now. I don't know what's wrong, and I really needed that coupon to feed my two-year-old,€ the promotion was a huge success. KFC and Oprah did what they intended to do, which was to create awareness of KFC Grilled Chicken.

They let consumers taste the product and in doing so they created an overwhelming demand. People talked about it, they sent coupons to everyone they knew. Charitable individuals downloaded coupons and gave them to the homeless. The €chicken coup€ may be the greatest PR strategy ever.

Every day, 23 million chickens are prepared for food in the U.S. Louisville-based KFC, a subsidiary of Yum Brands, hopes grilled chicken will lure back health-conscious consumers who dropped fried chicken from their diets, or cut back on indulging. KFC€s new €Unthink What You Thought about KFC€ initiative is a Web-based user-generated content campaign to push the company€s new grilled balanced lifestyle items. The €Unthink KFC€ site offers a fun way for users to get involved in the brand as well as a source of nutritional information.

Last year, Yum had 30 percent operating profit growth in its China division, where KFC is a dominant fast-food brand, while U.S. operations had a three percent decline. Yum and KFC said they want health-conscious customers back. Their objective was to show the other side of KFC that isn€t fried. The grilled chicken breast has 17 less grams of fat than its fried counterpart.

KFC has over 14,000 outlets in 105 countries and territories around the world. The breakthrough to the new offering came when the company solved operational problems with a new oven that grills a batch of chicken in just over 20 minutes. Customers in select U.S. cities will soon be greeted at KFCs by lighted €Now Grilling€ signs. Even the brand's ubiquitous chicken buckets will get a makeover. Buckets will still feature founder Harland Sanders but will get a redesign to promote fried and grilled chicken.

African Americans€ affinity with €the yard bird€ and KFC is long and legend. Twelve percent of the U.S. population, Blacks have represented over 20 percent of KFC customers from the beginning. In the 1970s and 80s, the company negotiated and signed a €covenant€ with PUSH for increased reciprocity and franchises with Blacks. The company has been named one of FORTUNE magazine€s €Top 50 Employers for Minorities.€

KFC has a long presence and has made a distinctive outreach to urban markets. The new restaurant design is adorned inside and out with paintings by famed African American artist Charly (Carlos) Palmer. A prototype restaurant is in Washington, D.C. where they updated an old KFC urban location. The restaurant increased business by more than 20 percent and, most importantly, changed how KFC team members and customers felt about the KFC brand.

In addition to their Oprah Connection, KFC is marketing public
service across the nation. KFC has sent a letter to U.S. mayors, offering to fill up potholes in their cities€ streets. Mayors must nominate their cities to be refreshed, and those that win will have their potholes filled and marked with the words €Re-freshet by KFC€ in non-permanent street chalk. The phrase refers to the fact that the chain uses only fresh chicken, which is shipped weekly to its stores.

In the end, we now know that: 1) Oprah is a media phenomenon with the reach and credibility to create a trend and influence; 2) People love chicken and 3) People love chicken even more when it€s free.