Because We Can’t Unsee the KFC Mother’s Day Chickendales

WS Blog - KFC Mother's Day

Let’s talk about it: the good, the bad, the creepy

May is here, and everyone with a heart and a half-decent childhood is planning ways to shower Mom with gratitude and affection this Mother’s Day. We’re ordering flowers, making brunch reservations, having our kids hand-print art projects and brainstorming ways to get Mom’s libido up for her big day. Wait — what? Yeah, that last one is a little unexpected if you haven’t yet seen KFC’s “Chickendales” campaign, which features an unnerving striptease from real Chippendale dancers and their telltale bowties. With strip club lighting. And tearaway clothing. And very tight underpants with messages for your sweet mother spelled out on the backside.

It’s super weird.

Sounds saucy!

If you’ve managed to avoid this disturbing bit of advertising, here’s the gist: KFC is introducing a limited-time product (its flaky biscuits smothered in the signature Cinnabon® cream cheese icing) for Mother’s Day and is using Chippendale (oh-so-cleverly renamed Chickendale) dancers to do it. The scantily clad men gyrate and look intimately into the camera reciting phrases like, “I love you, Mom,” and, “You’re a real special lady.” Honestly, you just have to see it fo yourself. Warning: you can’t unsee it.

To top it off, you can visit the campaign microsite and create a personalized version of this video to email to your mom or, better yet, publicly share on her social media pages. What classy, middle-aged or older mother wouldn’t love that? It’s finger lickin’… no, no, I can’t go there.

The pros: yes, there are actually pros

OK, now that you’ve had that utterly unnecessary life experience, let’s take an objective step back. What’s working here? Surprisingly, there are a few significant wins:
It’s on brand – KFC has already spent a lot of time and money establishing itself as an off-the-wall brand that takes calculated risks with its marketing. It’s a powerhouse – dominating the fast food chicken market – and it has set a very clear precedent for doing oddball marketing. There was the DC comic book. The tongue-in-cheek virtual influencer. The “extra crispy” sunscreen. There was even last year’s Mother’s Day romance novel, Tender Wings of Desire. People love it.

It’s perfectly integrated – If you want to see an example of a well thought out integrated campaign, look no further. Teaser video, hype video, social posts, microsite, sharable content – it’s all seamless, timely and (for better or worse) very memorable.

It introduces a new product – New products, especially limited-time new products, should come with a lot of hype. Mission accomplished. But even more important to note, this new product is actually a really attractive value-add type of product – flaky biscuit plus gooey, nostalgic Cinnabon icing? Yes, please.

The cons: oh, the many, many cons

We get it, Mother’s Day is a $20 billion spending spree that 86 percent of Americans celebrate. Every brand wants in on it. But, should every brand get involved? Is a fast food joint really the sweet spot for Mother’s Day specials? Overall relevancy aside, here are some sticking points to consider:   

It’s beyond creepy – Is anyone else feeling a seriously uncomfortable Oedipal vibe? Why are people sending their mothers sexy videos? Why are the male strippers addressing the mothers so coyly, calling them mom? While it’s actually a positive that KFC is recognizing moms as full humans with identities and personal agency far beyond the singular act of raising children… this is still nope territory.

It makes some assumptions – The KFC press release announces that the new menu item is an chance to “give mom the day off and let the Colonel cook the perfect family meal.” Um, should Mom also cover up her bare feet before she removes her pregnant self from the kitchen? This framing assumes some pretty 1950s sitcom family dynamics. In some families, dads cook. In others, there are two moms. In still more, no one sits down to a family meal at all.

Then it makes some more assumptions – I almost don’t even want to open this door, but…. this assumes that moms are all heteronormal and sexually aroused by a very specific body type (and preferably white). Like I said, I’m not really going to touch that, other than to say: no.     

Oh, and it sort of forgets that new product – The Cinnabon Dessert Biscuit is not actually present, at all, in the Chickendales video. It’s also not anywhere obvious on the microsite. In fact, the only information linking the product directly to the Chickendales seems to be the KFC press release and all the articles written in response as the ad world sits back, aghast. So… fail?

The verdict

Confession time: Ultimately, I see this campaign and I want to eat Cinnabon Dessert Biscuits – like, literally immediately eat them. Not because of any white-haired, bowtie-clad gyrating dude, and not because I’m another overworked mom who wants the night off from cooking for Mother’s Day. I want them because of cream cheese icing and cinnamon and soft, warm carbs. It sounds delicious, and I’m sold. As for the campaign? It’s another notch in KFC’s bizarro belt. It happened. We laughed. They’ll sell stuff. The brand has proven – again and again – that if your product holds up, and you’re true to yourself, you can let your freak flag fly.

Are you considering taking a calculated risk for your brand? We can help talk you through it! Get in touch.

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