CMO

Latest KFC ad earns industry ire for sexism and stereotypes in marketing

KFC misses the mark with its latest stereotypical ad, attracts boycott calls

At a time when brand purpose and brands standing for positive change is gaining traction in marketing and elsewhere, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is being condemned for another ‘sexist’ ad.

Collective Shout has condemned a new KFC TV ad for reinforcing gender stereotypes, and for its ‘sexist grooming of boys’.

The 15-second ad, currently being run on TV, opens with a young woman checking her appearance in the reflection of a parked car window, leaning forward as she adjusts her low-cut top. The window rolls down to reveal a very unhappy looking mother and two young boys, who are staring open-mouthed having received an eyeful of the woman's cleavage.

Collective Shout spokeswoman, Melinda Liszewski, called the ad a regression to tired and archaic stereotypes where young women are sexually objectified for male pleasure, and males are helplessly transfixed when confronted with the opportunity to ogle a woman's body.

“Over the last year, KFC seemed to be going for an ‘edgy’ affect with its ads, and I don’t think they’re pulling it off. You don’t want people disgusted with your brand when it comes to food,” Liszewski told CMO.

“They shouldn’t be reinforcing negative gender stereotypes and sexist attitudes and behaviour we would hope would be in the past. UltraTune is another current example of this. These ads look like they are inspired by the 1970s 1980s era of sexist advertising, but some of these companies are doing the same thing now. It very tone deaf and out of touch to what we are trying to move towards as a society."

Founder of Suits&Sneakers, Anne Miles, agreed with Collective Shout, telling CMO the ad shows a real lack of understanding of their audience.

“I’m so disappointed that this KFC ad firstly got through the agency creative department, all the people in the agency approval chain, and then the client side approval chain,” Miles commented.

“Where was FreeTV’s CAD in this too? How can not one person put their hand up and say this isn’t good for society, first up? Most of all, though, this shows lack in real understanding about who actually buys this product and that is appalling for our industry." 

Brands are expected by the consumer to now stand for positive change or at least to be doing their part in stopping harmful stereotypes in society or doing less harm to our planet and the people on it, Miles continued.

"What’s worst about this is that it seems a deliberate strategy to gain attention; or for someone in the approval chain to make a quick buck at the expense of this brand," she said. “KFC and its agency need to step in time with the modern customer and modern creativity too. There are no shortage of innovative creative ideas out here, and absolutely no need to resort to these brand and customer damaging tactics to get noticed."

KFC's latest ad also comes at a time where government investment is going into addressing the disrespect that leads to violence against women, and challenging those underlying ideas. Collective Shout noted KFC's approach as a backwards step towards achieving the goals set out in the Australian Government’s National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022. 

"Advertising works, which is why brands do it, but it doesn’t just affect purchasing behaviour, it has the ability to shape attitudes as well," Liszewski said. “That’s why it’s so harmful, because the reach is so wide. When the same message is repeated across different mediums, it reinforces that whole ‘boys will be boys’ attitude, and that ogling and disrespecting women is all we can expect from boys. It’s disrespectful to boys as well.

“There are a lot of social justice movements around equality being driven by young people, and then these things slip through the gaps. I don’t know how KFC thought this was OK, as the brand partners with a number of youth charities, it’s so disconnected to what the company's stated aim is for those partnerships." 

For Liszewski, the research is solid: Attitudes shape behaviour. "A growing number of reports show how re-enforcing of gender stereotypes - including in advertising - contributes to a lesser view of women, resulting in their mistreatment,” she said. 

This latest kerfuffle comes on the back of multiple complaints about one of KFC’s ads last year. KFC was also forced to apologise for "an immature and salacious social media campaign which was removed just one hour after it was launched due to public backlash" in 2016. That same year, KFC was called out for showing sexualised content to customers via in-store TVs.

Collective Shout added the company seems to have learnt nothing from the widespread condemnation it received then and shown no desire to abide by Corporate Social Responsibility standards, and has called for a boycott.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia.