Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Is KFC celebrating foster care, or exploiting it?

As brands struggle to stay relevant in the social era, we are seeing an increasing move into ads that address deeply emotional issues.

Here's he latest:

In KFC UK's case, it's the touching story of a boy in foster care growing up in a supportive environment (which includes being welcomed with a big bucket of fried chicken).

It's pretty intense, and it brought a tear to this cynical aging adman's eye. But it also raises some questions.

Parent Dish has reviewed some of the negative feedback on social media, and summarizes:

Those who dislike the ad have argued that the trauma a child experiences in an abusive and/or neglectful birth family, compounded by the anxiety of being taken into care, cannot be mended by a bucket of chicken, however finger-lickin' good it might be. They believe that KFC are suggesting their chicken fixes these things.
It also points to a petition that accuses the ad of "it glorifies the care system with little to no thought having been given to the real children entering the care system who are traumatized and have been torn away from their families and everything they know."

Those words seem eerily familiar to me, as several years ago I worked on a foster care campaign for the Children's Aid Societies of Eastern Ontario and we ended up attracting the attention of people who object to the way state intervention on child abuse is conducted.

Back to KFC: Yes, they are exploiting a deeply emotional story that is very personal to many people to sell fried chicken. Just as Coca-Cola and McDonald's have done for generations.

One thing KFC did, to its credit, is to consult with longtime children's advocate Barnardo's to ensure the subject was approached with sensitivity.

Barnardo's spokesperson Gerry Tissier stated, "Barnardo's saw the KFC ad before it was aired. We recognise that it cannot fully convey the difficulties which children and young people face when moving into a new family. However, we believe it shows that foster and adoptive parents can and do make a real positive difference to a child's life. If it persuades more people to come forwards for a child who needs a family, that will only be a good thing."

That's a good point. Charities are turning more and more to private sector brands for sponsorship. The charity gets program, production, and media money, as well as exposure. The brand gets to bond with its audiences over a warmed heart or a good cry.

I found an interesting quote about the the changing nature of emotional marketing, from Leisha Roche, senior director of marketing for grocery brands at Kraft Canada. She talked about how the media environment is awash in personal stories and heartfelt appeals: “You’re not competing with other brands anymore. You’re competing with people,” she said.

The KFC ad made me feel like I had something in my eye. Which is good. I just never want to forget that I'm watching a fast food ad.

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