KFC’s latest product launch is a glazed, deep-fried flop

October 2019

By combining sweet and savoury into one, KFC’s latest product launch aims to shake up the fast food sector – offering people a unique way to literally give themselves a heart attack. The fast food giant sandwiched a piece of its iconic fried chicken between two glazed doughnuts, sparking a flurry of conversation and debate on social media.

We were licking our lips at the opportunity to put it through our Innovation Testing solution, to see how the broader public would respond to such an audacious concept.

We use 3 ‘Cs’ to predict the in-market success of new product innovations:

  1. Captivate: Does it stand out and elicit a positive emotional response?
  2. Connect: Does it leverage unique brand properties to create instant recognition?
  3. Compel: Does it predispose people toward purchase?

Captivate

As expected, KFC’s Fried Chicken and Doughnut Sandwich got people’s attention. A piece of fried chicken and two doughnuts seems so simple, yet the contrasting flavours made the product highly unique and distinctive. The sweet and savoury mix was polarising, prompting curiosity from some people and scepticism from others.

The product drew an intense emotional response, with almost one-in-four describing it as “disgusting”, a function of the unappealing flavour combination along with health concerns. The product not only turned people off, but they also took things a step further by expressing disdain that it would even be offered for sale.

Connect

Apprehension toward the product wasn’t just limited to concerns around health and taste, but also its suitability for the brand more broadly. While KFC offers a selection of sweets and desserts – and has dabbled with left-of-centre product creations in the past – doughnuts are not (and have never been) a part of the brand’s core area of specialisation.

This caused a lack of alignment between the brand and product, with doughnuts jarring with KFC’s entrenched positioning around fried chicken. With the doughnuts attracting the lion’s share of attention, the sensorial associations they elicited weren’t synergistic with what people expect from the fried chicken products typically available at KFC.

Compel

While its $5.99 price point was considered reasonable value for money, this was inconsequential – the majority rejected the product regardless. The product’s low level of relevance reflected its lack of appeal and suitability for key consumption occasions. It also wasn’t considered sufficiently different from other fast-food chains, who are better known for their abstract product offerings.

Of greater concern is the longer-term impact it will have on the masterbrand. While it may only have been intended to have a short “shelf life”, KFC would have hoped that the buzz and excitement around the launch would trigger associations which meaningfully differentiated the brand from other fast-food retailers. However, impressions around KFC being an “innovative” and “fun” brand were both weak – a testament to negativity toward the product and its lack of synergy with the masterbrand.

Conclusion

Creating wacky, original product concepts that drive organic engagement can be an effective strategy – so long as they’re aligned with the brand and its positioning. This is where KFC’s Fried Chicken and Doughnut Sandwich didn’t quite hit the mark, with the use of doughnuts as its differentiating component not meshing well with the brand’s established positioning around fried chicken.

This negated any potential for the product to build longer-term predisposition toward the KFC masterbrand, while widespread condemnation limited its short-term up-take. Subsequently, its effectiveness sat in the bottom 30th percentile of Cubery’s innovation database.

NPD Innovation Testing - KFC Donuts and Chicken

This is a self-funded case study using our Innovation Testing solution.

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