2021 Winner

KFC Canada


john st.

SilverLaunch Strategy

As the QSR famous for fried chicken, how do you drive trial for a breakthrough plant-based product when the industry is in decline? By summer 2020, plant-based products had come to QSR. In 2018 and 2019, A&W, McDonald’s and Tim Hortons had launched or piloted products. Nearly all Canadians had heard of plant-based (95%), but only four-in-ten (39%) had tried it. Additionally, the industry was in decline due to COVID and rolling lockdowns had impacted sales.

KFC’s plant-based chicken sandwich was launched in August 2020 with a distinctly different product from its competitors. While other QSRs were using a branded beef-substitute that could be purchased off the shelf in grocery, KFC partnered with Lightlife to develop a custom plant-based product that was as intensely crave-able as its fried chicken – the first plant-based chicken sandwich to launch nationally. KFC had to make a better sandwich than the burger boys and donut guys, their chicken credentials depended on it! KFC knew it had a winner and wanted its campaign to be as unique as its offer.

Driving a trial for a new product is always hard, but this was a unique challenge for KFC. As the QSR known for doing one protein perfectly, how do you launch a breakthrough plant-based product in a luke-warm market?

With any big launch, comes controversy. But with a plant-based launch from the brand known for fried chicken? Multiply that by 1000. KFC piloted plant-based at one of its Mississauga locations in November 2019. In only 6 hours the brand sold out of the product and increased sales by 600%. These were incredible results, but equally captivating was the debate this pilot launched on social media. While some customers commented on how excited they were about the launch of plant-based food at KFC, others disagreed and shared their disdain with equal passion.

As the QSR known for iconic fried chicken, KFC expected its plant-based launch to be controversial. After all, it’s an era of ‘healthier’ food options and if the brand that champions indulgent food enters the plant-based world, people will be forced to challenge their preconceived notions of the category. But they didn’t expect to have so many plant-based haters in KFC’s social media comments. Opinions were strong. The debate was passionate. This observation led to a critical ‘aha’ moment for the campaign.

Other QSRs had to use marketing dollars to convince consumers their plant-based product was worth trying, but this wasn’t the case for KFC. The brand’s notorious taste credentials meant a ‘trust us, it tastes good’ campaign wasn’t necessary. This opened the door for KFC to lean into the plant-based debate to garner more attention to the launch. While every other QSR spoke to the crave, KFC decided to speak to the controversy. Because when it comes to haters, everyone loves a clap back.

KFC developed a targeted campaign that responded to plant-based hate with one simple message: “Relax”. Using real quotes from plant-based haters, KFC took a distinctively unapologetic approach, highlighting how ludicrous and polarizing the plant-based debate had become. KFC’s target of light/lapsed users, flexitarians and younger consumers shaped the media mix and targeting. With these groups in mind, KFC’s first priority was to ensure as many people heard about KFC’s plant-based launch as possible, so communications efforts focused on the top of the funnel with TV and OLV. The brand also focused on social media to drive conversation with younger QSR customers. These tactics were most integral and allowed KFC to target consumers most likely to try plant-based.

Offline, KFC celebrated the launch by painting four of its restaurants green. These restaurants were among KFC’s most successful, as well as in regions with higher numbers of self-identifying flexitarians and vegetarians. All restaurants provided a detailed FAQ at cash and colleagues wore plant-based themed uniforms to promote the trial. KFC’s final touch was to launch a micro-site full of soothing plant-themed videos to help its biggest plant-based haters relax. Because they care.

While other QSRs took their plant-based products off the menu, KFC’s achieved spectacular results and it became a permanent menu item. It was the highest performing calendar window of the year (2020), with +9.4% SSSG vs previous year and had the highest annual impression score for the brand of 13 vs previous year average of 7.1. It also had the highest annual Buzz score for the brand of 6.9 vs previous year average of 4.1.

Agency: john st
Chief Strategy Officer: Megan Towers
Senior. Strategist: Jay Fleming
Chief Creative Officer: Cher Campbell
Creative Director: Christian Buer
Associate Creative Director: Natalie Mathers
Copywriter: Maddie Rosenberg
Art Director: Natalie Mathers
Producer: Jaclyn Garfinkle
Producer: Lauren Sloan
Producer: Matthew DeWaal
Producer: Andrew LaGrave
Client Services Director: Ryan O’Hagan
Team Lead: Jenni Cowdy
Account Director: Lauran Gibson
Account Supervisor: Elana Duncan
Account Coordinator: Mitchell Pichosky

Client: KFC Canada
Chief Marketing Officer: Samantha Redman
Chief Marketing Officer: Katherine Bond-Debicki
Sr Marketing Manager: Stephen Scarrow
Marketing Manager: Danielle Ruggles

Media: Wavemaker Canada
Group Account Director: Dan Boem
Strategy Manager: James Lever
Client Business Manager: Rachel McHugh
Assistant, Media Buyer/Planner: Renata Barrientos

Public Relations: Edelman Canada
Senior Vice President, Brand Practice: Brian Rosevear
Account Director: Alex Thomas
Senior Account Executive: Senior Account Executive

Production Company: Frank Content

Online: Red Lab

Have questions? Need help?
Contact Rowan Traynor at 1-416-408-2300 x213 or rtraynor@brunico.com.