Is KFC's Terrifying VR Escape Room Actually Good Internal PR?

Kfc Blog 2

If you haven’t already seen the story about KFC’s creepy foray into virtual reality, the notion that the chicken chain is locking its new trainees in a sinister (albeit virtual) escape room might be a little jarring. Then again, the fast food franchise has made headlines earlier this year for a handful of bizarro stunts, including sending a Zinger sandwich into space, publishing a romance novella starring the Colonel himself and introducing a limited-edition takeout box that functioned as a phone charger. Yeah… the brand has been taking some hefty risks in the name of differentiation, and its newest has resulted in a lot of skeeved-out Twitter posts. 

Why is the internet freaking out about KFC’s VR? 

Using VR headsets for training purposes isn’t all that wild. In fact, Walmart introduced VR to its training centers just a few months ago. However, unlike Walmart’s basic scenario training, KFC’s VR experience, a game called “The Hard Way,” is a lot more playful… and somewhat horrifying. To get the full idea, you’re just going to have to watch it for yourself. Right now. But here’s the gist:

As a user, you find yourself locked in a stark escape room. Think cold and clinical, with stainless steel instruments hanging from the walls, a row of monitoring screens and unexplained shadows. Ominous music plays, bells chime and you realize you have no body, just a pair of disembodied hands. You must properly prepare a bucket of chicken according to KFC’s original recipe (which takes 25 minutes IRL) in less than 10 minutes – or else. All the while, the typically friendly gentleman we know as Colonel Sanders watches on, taunting and threatening the user, between fierce coughing fits and frequent muttering. Oh, and he’s communicating from an enchanted oil painting that hangs above a metal door decorated with tribal markings. Yikes. 

KFC’s VR should be an abysmal communications failure

If we view this VR experience the way it’s intended – as one of the first interactions a new hire has with the company – it raises some obvious red flags:

  • The company’s founder is positioned as fairly evil and laughs at the trainee 
  • The environment is depicted as a stressful, high-stakes setting 
  • The Colonel’s incessant coughing implies health and safety concerns
  • The process is depicted inaccurately (a 25-minute process condensed into 10 minutes) 
  • The Colonel demands a human touch in his kitchen, but uses robots to demonstrate the process 

 Oh and, you know, that pesky little detail that the workplace is portrayed as a shadowy prison dominated by fear that one fights feverishly to escape. 

And yet…

There is something undeniably charming and hilarious about the whole thing. Finally, a corporate brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The game is fun. It makes a typically dull experience far more engaging – and memorable. And it elicits a genuine reaction from the user. All of which make it successful in showing a human element of a major corporation. 

I haven’t done the demographic research, but I’m guessing most of KFC’s new hires are Millennials or Gen Zers. Professionally speaking, I know that these younger audiences are unattached to companies and are known for holding brands to higher standards. Off the record, I’m also willing to guess that a lot of KFC chef applicants are dudes who like video games. In both senses, the VR game hits the target.  

Of course, the game was never intended to be the only training KFC chefs receive. It’s merely an engaging introduction to a larger conversation… one new hires may actually want to have now that they can view their employer as a real person who just might get it after all.

Need a hand developing your training materials? Interested in coming up with an idea so weird it just might be right? WhiteSpace can help! 

What’s your take on KFC’s wild marketing stunts? Tell us in the comments!


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