New KFC Promotion Strives for Disaster Trifecta in China

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In China, sales of foreign fast food continue to slow. McDonald’s, despite a huge hiring push and nearly 250 new stores in China this year, has recently seen regional sales decrease. KFC is doing worse, with sales continuing to tank despite the brand weathering a hormone scandal a year ago and a recent H7N9 bird flu scare.

And chinese fast food brands appear to be closing the gap. Whether it’s pricing, food safety or just taste, more local names like Taiwan’s Dicos and the Bruce Lee-branded Kung Fu Catering are drawing the eye of Chinese eaters.

And to help along local vendors, KFC seems to be going for a hat trick of PR disasters. In an attempt to boost sales, this week KFC launched a two week promotion in which its chicken bucket is half-price. Except, it shrunk the contents—and Chinese customers have noticed.

On the first day of the promotion, advertised as the “Half-Price Bucket,” social network users on Weibo and elsewhere have kicked up a storm of complaints pointing out that the bucket is half-priced because it has nearly half as much chicken. In a Weibo post forwarded nearly 3,600 times, user “Happy张江” breaks down how the new “half-price” bucket contains a lot less than the old bucket meal, asking in the end, “这特么是半价?” or “So what’s this special half price?”[more]

Another post, forwarded nearly 1,000 times, has the same complaint.

In fact, a Weibo search for “KFC half price” returns a litany of results not about the deal but about how the deal is a sly screw of the customer. Many of the posts include a side-by-side picture comparison of the full bucket and the new “half-price” bucket (at top). You don’t need to read Chinese to understand the gripe.

Worse yet for KFC, China’s newspapers are now picking up on the controversy and running stories about how KFC’s new deal “忽悠了一大批消费者栽倒了桶里” or “tricked a lot of consumers into buying the bucket.”

It is impossible to imagine what went through the mind of KFC—which until recently was a business school case study on successful market localization. Not to generalize too much, but Chinese customers are legendary for getting their money’s worth and being constantly vigilant about rip-offs. For example, in Shanghai, restaurants have started installing scales so that diners can verify the weight of food like fish. This measure was taken after numerous complaints about eateries shorting diners on meal weights. How did KFC ever think it could get away with this?

The new half-price bucket promotion is on its second day of a two week run—two weeks that, if they continue like this, could be another major blow to Yum! Brands’ former crown jewel in China.

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