Quick, give me that KFC bucket, because I think I'm going to vomit.
This happy little video, posted last week on the KFC Philippines YouTube channel, came to my attention thanks to some fawning coverage on Mashable. In the clip, the brand uses the cutest amphibious vehicle you ever saw to bring some fried chicken to a lovely woman who, at 69, has trouble getting around her perpetually flooded village. The woman and her fellow residents go on to profess their thanks to the brand for this treat.
Nothing wrong with that, you say? Well, I admit that delivering some chicken to people who clearly enjoyed it is not a crime against humanity. Certainly it doesn't hold a candle to things that are going on in the Philippines or the US right now, for example.
But it is a crime against the brand—a self-inflicted one.
It seems surreal to have to run through the logic, but here goes. It's not a good look for a large, profitable corporation, especially a multinational one, to exploit a poor community (however slightly) in order to create a self-praising video that the brand hopes will deliver a big earned-media impact.
In this case, there's no lasting change for the people who are lending their stories, likenesses and emotional heft to your little film, so the 'value exchange' is unjustly lopsided. You filled some stomachs one time, and you apparently think you deserve a medal. Maybe you should stick to stuff like lickable nail polish and chicken-scented sunscreen.
Everyone who sees this knows what you're up to, and many of them wonder why you couldn't spend the budget on things that the people in this village apparently need. Such as, say, a supply of fresh water. Or homes that have dry land under them.
It's not any brand's obligation to solve world hunger or provide homes for unfortunate people. But if you're going to helicopter in—or float in on a precious little boat—and take promotional value out of a group of people, at least you could try to give more than a few hundred dollars worth of free food in return.
Better yet, you could allow your human feelings (you have those, right?) to guide you. Maybe you'll see people who, in addition to being good for a video, truly need help. Maybe you'll see an opportunity to embark on a long-term, meaningful project to make a real difference. And hey, guess what? You'd get way more videos—better ones, because you'd have earned them—out of an effort like that.
As one YouTube commenter put it, this is nothing more than "Staged bullshit." I've been watching this industry in this region for a few years now, and it's depressing to see reputable brands and agencies (Ogilvy in this case) still engaging in this sort of empty and craven posturing.
(By the way, I have reached out in hope that KFC is actually doing some charitable work in the Philippines and just neglected to mention it. But I have not received a response yet.)*
Matthew Miller is Campaign Asia-Pacific's online editor.
* Update, 11:45 am, 5 May 2017: After this article was published, I received a response from KFC via Ogilvy. It reads in part:
Each year—as we have for the last 8 years—we participate in the Yum! Brands World Hunger Relief Campaign by launching initiatives in our stores that enable our consumers to donate to feeding programs benefiting conflict-affected areas of central Mindanao through the UN World Food Programme. KFC Philippines’ ongoing donations to this initiative has amounted to millions of dollars throughout this time.
KFC also said the above is just one of "many" ongoing programmes it participates in. So that's genuinely good news. However, I would submit that a single, poorly thought-out video that makes a bad impression can erase an awful lot of goodwill.