Thursday, May 7, 2009

Is the Oprah Effect Always a Good Thing?

Last night my wife and I visited a KFC to try some of their Kentucky Grilled Chicken. My wife, who is Queen of Coupons as well as Queen of My Heart, had two coupons for free grilled chicken dinners; these were each for two pieces of chicken, two sides and a biscuit. All we had to actually buy were drinks.

When we arrived at the store the gal behind the counter was organizing what appeared to be hundreds of these coupons. My wife began chatting her up, telling her what a great deal the coupons were. The folks at KFC agreed, but then explained that thanks to Oprah these coupons were pouring in by the bushel basket. It seems that while KFC offered the coupons to promote their new Kentucky Grilled Chicken (I believe my wife had found ours on a coupon website she frequents), Oprah promoted the coupons on her website yesterday. That golden touch of hers sent scads of people into KFCs--including the one I was in--with those free coupons, and the stores were giving away free food left and right.

It seems this promotion was orchestrated between KFC and Oprah, and as one might guess was designed to drive traffic into stores. If the comments of the workers at my local KFC are any indication, it worked. But were they happy about it? Apparently not. My wife assumed that Oprah somehow subsidized the giveaway she was promoting on her site, to which the employees explained that she was not, and that all free food given away as part of the promotion would just be written off as a loss to KFC. This is standard practice for a product launch, they explained, but another worker preparing our meal indicated that in this case the promotion "cut pretty deep."

I am currently working with a client of my own to find creative ways to drive more traffic into their stores. However, my approach is to find better ways of finding their target market and compelling them to visit. I prefer not to use a shotgun approach and drive people like cattle into stores, hoping they will buy and more importantly hoping they will return, because chances are the will do neither. For example, my wife and I almost never frequent KFC, and after having visited yesterday will probably not visit again anytime soon. The whole reason for our visit was to get something for free. Is that effective marketing? I think not, and it seems the workers at my local KFC store agree, as they said that they don't expect to see most of the people using the coupons ever again.

I think there are lessons to be learned here for us as marketers:
  • A shotgun approach works well for the short term but not the long term.
  • An endorser should somehow work to endorse your brand, and not just a sales event.
  • An endorser should be endorsing for the long term.
  • An endorser should work to drive your target market into your stores, not just everyone they can influence.
  • A real product launch shouldn't be based entirely on broadcast advertising. The proof of your product should be in the using, or in KFC's case in the eating. If the product is good, your loyal customers will do more to spread the word than any broadcast marketing campaign. Not to beat a dead horse, but hello--social media?
And above all, be sure that when you get Oprah to endorse your product you are ready for an unprecedented stampede.


  1. Well said, Art. After my own "free lunch" at KFC yesterday, I tend to agree with comic Jim Gaffigan: "I've never left a KFC thinking to myself, 'I'm glad I ate that.'"

  2. Ouch, that sounds like more trouble than it was worth. Giving away free samples does garner good return business if it's a great product. I know of at least two products I never would've tried if I hadn't gotten free samples and loved them.

    It would be interesting to see if Oprah's one day influence had any effect on their overall profit for the next few weeks.

  3. Thanks for that feedback, Merry. I agree that the long-term effects will be important to follow. KFC and their franchisees obviously gave away a ton of chicken. Now let's see if it pays off for them in the long term. I think, too, it will be interesting to monitor their brand and see if they've done any long-term damage as a result.