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Responsible Marketing

El Pollo Loco adds heat to KFC challenge

By May 11, 2009May 10th, 2021No Comments

One way or the other, you probably heard about KFC last week.

If you didn’t see one of their ads for their new Kentucky Grilled Chicken (the largest ad blitz in KFC history) you probably heard about the Oprah catastrophy. KFC was caught off guard when a promotion for a free two-piece meal featuring its new grilled chicken created such an overwhelming response the company ran out of chicken and customers had to be turned away.

KFC wasn’t execution responsible, but most companies would love to be overwhelmed by new customers. Especially El Pollo Loco, the 418-unit Costa Mesa, California-based chain that challenged KFC to a taste test in late April.

The company wants to pit its citrus-marinated grilled chicken against the KFC offering and has taken specific aim at KFC’s cooking process. While El Pollo Loco grills its chicken over an open flame, KFC’s chicken is cooked on a griddle—a point that the smaller contender hasn’t missed:

In KFC’s defense, if El Pollo Loco wants a taste test, all they have to do is conduct one, and by definition, grilling doesn’t require an open flame.

Amid the Oprah firestorm, KFC issued rain checks for anyone that was turned away. The rain checks were good until May 19, 2009—excluding Mother’s Day, May 10, 2009.

El Pollo Loco’s response: Ask KFC what they have against mothers, and honor KFC’s coupons on Mother’s Day.

In this David v. Goliath story, Goliath has yet to throw a swing.

It’s familiar territory for KFC—the company has failed to effectively respond to PETA’s long-running Kentucky Fried Cruelty campaign.

El Pollo Loco is receiving national attention playing chicken with KFC.

Do you love their tactics or hate them?

Should KFC accept El Pollo Loco’s challenge?

If not, how should they respond?

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UPDATE: QSRWeb, an online publication covering quick-service restaurant ideas and trends, covered this topic in detail, interviewing me for the Responsible Marketing take in El Polo Loco winning this round of chicken war. Check it out.

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Thanks for Matthew Mason for the KFC tip.

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