Who: Kentucky Fried Chicken (Great Britain) Limited (KFC) and the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 4 December 2019
Law stated as at: 4 December 2019
The ASA has upheld complaints that KFC poster ads seen at bus stops which featured the phrase “WHAT THE CLUCK?!” – and press ads in the Metro and The Sun which featured the same phrase, along with an elongated “cluuuuuck” – are likely to cause serious or widespread offence. The ASA order the ads to be removed.
KFC placed the ads in September 2019, and the ASA received 40 complaints relating to them. The issues considered by the ASA were whether:
- both ads were offensive because the word “cluck” had been substituted in place of ‘the f-word’; and
- both ads were inappropriate since they could be seen by children.
KFC attempted to make three arguments to persuade that ASA that the complaints should not be upheld, contending that:
- the campaign was a continuation of a TV and radio campaign where the word “cluck” had been used as a sound effect of a chicken;
- the word “cluck” was an onomatopoeic reference to the noise of a chicken, which was wholly relevant to the deal, the product and the KFC brand, and that they did not believe that there was any ambiguity between in the appearance of the ad copy which could have allowed for consumers to have interpreted the word used as an offensive word; and
- the locations of their posters was chosen to maximise coverage to over-16s, and that no ad was displayed within 200 metres of a school, meaning that children would be unlikely to see the ad.
The ASA, however, was unmoved.
The ASA considered that the written word “cluck” was used in the ads (as opposed to the expression being used to different effect in previous radio and TV ads) and that people would interpret that as alluding specifically to the expression “what the f&!k?“.
The ASA considered that the particular swear word was a word so likely to offend that it should not generally be used or alluded to in advertising, regardless of an adult target audience.
The ASA therefore upheld the complaints, and told KFC that the ad must not appear again in its current form.
Why this matters:
This is a timely reminder for advertisers that ad copy can be found to be offensive either where it uses swear words, or where it uses words which hint or imply swear words.
In the run up to Christmas, particularly, advertisers should be mindful of cultural sensitivities, and of the recent ASA guidance on offensive Christmas ads, which points out that what some consumers may find humorous, others may find deeply offensive.