Executive chef and restaurateur Nelly Robinson is one of Australia’s top chef personalities, and his contemporary restaurant nel. is known for its elevated but unpretentious global cuisine. His mastery in extracting the best flavours from Australia’s fantastically fresh and organic produce is to be expected. So, naturally, he was happy to embark on a culinary journey with KFC Australia to create a degustation menu. And very logically as well, you would want Australia’s discerning food critics and influencers to critique this menu.
The folks at Ogilvy Australia thought so. The food critics agreed so, and the public – locally and internationally – thought so too. The results? About 20,000 people booked the 11-course degustation menu, made available for only three nights at a specially designed restaurant built from scratch.
The earned media coverage was wild, with 127 ‘foodie’ publications raving about KFC’s high-quality food with 99.2% of the coverage being positive. It gained traction internationally as well, generating 1,372 media articles with 1.2 billion impressions.
For KFC Australia, the campaign hit home the fact that they serve high-quality chicken, procured from the same farms that supply to restaurants. It also drove awareness of KFC’s stringent kitchen processes, which manages the prepping of fresh ingredients and cooking on a daily basis. Importantly, post-campaign research revealed that 41% of respondents said the KFC Degustation experience improved their perception of KFC’s food quality.
Safe to say, Ogilvy Australia got away with a cheeky ‘chicken coup’ with this creative and PR campaign. It was a bold, confident and inventive approach executed with a big dose of pizzazz. A keen eye for details manifested in an experiential restaurant design with cool Instagram-worthy moments that fed the social media frenzy. And exceptional restraint resulted in a menu that showcased KFC chicken in true form and texture while transforming the stage for it with entertaining epicurean finesse.
LBB gets a walkthrough behind the scenes with Ogilvy Australia’s creative leads Blake Arthur and Carl Robertson and James Curtis, senior business director at Ogilvy PR.
LBB> What was the strategic business or marketing problem that KFC Australia was looking to address?
Blake> The key concern for KFC has always been that of consumer perception with regards food quality. Being part of the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) category in Australia means that KFC needs to consistently overcome category reputation for cheap, low-quality food. To be honest, no one believes KFC when they say their food is high quality. But here’s the thing: KFC’s food actually is high quality. It’s made fresh every day from chicken supplied from the very same people who supply to restaurants all around the country. Even the fancy ones. We got down to work with a very simple and direct brief: Create a believable and influential message that will change Australians’ perceptions of KFC’s food quality.
LBB> So you went from "Michelin Impossible" to the ultimate "KFC Degustation" with KFC Australia. How did your creative approach naturally progress and build from it?
Blake> With the Michelin Impossible campaign, we promoted the cheeky idea of KFC trying to get a Michelin star for their food. It was really well received. So, this felt like a natural progression. KFC really does have this kind of authentic appeal as an underdog that everyone really loves to get behind, and we feel like that's a very Australian thing to do. So, we developed a bold strategy: take the most cynical, anti-KFC audience and convert them into public advocates for KFC’s quality. And who better than food critics as a highly believable source? That’s how we decided to create a safe space for them to be unabashed about their love for KFC.
LBB> Talk us through the creative brainstorming and journey in creating this KFC Degustation experience.
Carl> Working with the idea of a fine dining menu, it was so crucial that we got it perfect. If at any point we had a food critic who felt that any one of the 11 courses was not KFC food, the whole idea would have fallen apart. For example, the piece de resistance was the ‘“La Di Da Drumstick’, which was the original recipe drumstick dusted with quinoa and gold, served in a cloche with ‘smoke’ for dramatic effect. The hero of each dish had to be unmistakably KFC chicken. As for the restaurant experience, we selected a photography studio located in a warehouse and pared back on the design elements so that the focus was on the food. But there were still elements of larrikinism that KFC is so known for, for example, the hanging lampshades that resembled chicken buckets, the Colonel-bowtie-motif wallpaper – and the not-so-subtle giant drumstick light feature in the bar area. Attention to details mattered a lot, right down to the “menu cloth” (tablecloth) which were annotated with the names of the dishes on the menu, and that created a great social media opportunity for guests to take foodie photos as well. And thanks to the brilliant photography by Rob Palmer, the dishes looked amazing and brought out the gourmet appeal of KFC.
LBB> With over 1.2 billion impressions from 1,372 media articles, it certainly looks like a home run for the PR team. What PR activations were involved in building up momentum for the launch?
James> Using Chef Nelly Robinson as the lead talent for interviews, we arranged a number of opportunities for him to discuss the concept after the news was out there. His passion, love for the brand and complete understanding of the menu saw incredibly positive coverage generated that discussed the menu in detail. While there were 11 courses on offer, we strategically only made a few public (with accompanying images and video), to leave some mystery for the public and media once they attended the opening night. This approach also allowed us to sustain coverage in the two-week launch phase, as we could offer several other unknown dishes to outlets as exclusives. We had a lot of interview requests from Australia-based and international journalists which allowed Nelly to discuss the quality of the KFC ingredients used, which ultimately helped elevate KFC’s food credentials. We also had our local key media and influencers attend the degustation opening night, which was held a couple of days before the restaurant opened to the public. We had about 20 influencers there to post about their experiences as well.
LBB> What was the media mix employed and why?
James> The media mix comprised the usual tier one and agenda-setting outlets locally, but we also added more food titles given the news we had in addition to pop culture titles. Leading international titles were also contacted as we knew a story like this had legs. Our international media strategy proved to be quite important in the campaign’s success as it ultimately led to Jimmy Fallon discussing the KFC Degustation in an opening monologue on The Tonight Show, creating further earned media angles for us (including the famous spork comment!).
LBB> What was your back-up plan for a negative response to the degustation experience? And what were some of the toughest questions asked by journalists?
James> A lot of planning went into KFC Degustation. The menu and the restaurant were just 10% of the work we did. At least half of the work was in the storytelling component, and for the contingency plan, our team had responses and angles ready to go for pretty much any kind of question / situation you can imagine. Luckily, most of that hard work didn’t need to be used. And to be honest, we didn’t really encounter any tough questions from the media. This was KFC opening a fine dining restaurant. They know KFC is a brand that doesn’t take themselves too seriously and are always willing to have a laugh.
LBB> What was the most challenging aspect for you and how did you navigate that?
Carl> Taste is a very subjective thing, and the process of experimenting, tasting and deciding on the best dishes to go on the menu was a big challenge. But Chef Nel is a fantastic chef and he worked so well with the KFC Test Kitchen to get it done. The first test run for the restaurant was another challenge. Nothing goes smoothly for even the best restaurant. And we realised we had 24 hours to smooth out key details like service and theatre before food critics were supposed to arrive for dinner service. That was stressful.
LBB>With this experience, what insights and epiphanic lessons did you gain from waltzing with the culinary circle?
James> If you’ve got a great idea, be confident in executing it. The marketing team at KFC very much think like that as well. If something is out of the ordinary, it will pique interest and curiosity. And I think that's what really helped drive this particular KFC story.
Blake> Chefs love KFC Popcorn Chicken! We left a massive bowl of it with Nel and his head chef during a content shoot and came back to the two of them giggling like school kids because they'd almost finished it.