Television

Lessons Learned From The Great Free-Chicken Fiasco Of 2009

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah's giveaway: She undoubtedly meant it as a more positive event than it has turned out to be thus far. Katy Winn/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Katy Winn/Getty Images

Oprah Winfrey probably thought she would see nothing but an explosion of gratitude when she tried to treat the entire Internet to two pieces of KFC's new Kentucky Grilled Chicken by promoting a downloadable coupon (no longer available) that could be redeemed at "participating restaurants." Little did she realize.

It appears that nobody has learned yet that we love free stuff.

Disaster strikes, after the jump...

When you combine the enormous drawing power of Oprah, the viral capabilities of the Internet (which immediately clucked the news even to people who don't watch Oprah, in plenty of time for them to make the one-day window to download the coupon), the general allure of anything that's free, and the state of the economy, the systems supporting the download should have been set up in anticipation of substantially greater turnout for Oprah's chicken giveaway than we had in the last election.

This didn't happen, or didn't happen enough, and Oprah.com commenters complained of hours-long delays in downloading the coupon, if they could download it at all.

Furthermore, if anyone warned KFC locations ahead of time that this was coming, that warning apparently did not contain enough exclamation points and underlined words.

Customers have claimed that they encountered everything from flat-out refusal to honor their coupons to abrupt announcements that no more coupons would be honored for the day to refusal to honor your coupon if it was the same as someone else's (in fact, every coupon downloaded for a good part of the download period was identical).

The result? The perception of a massive customer-service failure at precisely the moment when KFC was going for good PR. Customers who did get their coupons and trudged to a Manhattan KFC reportedly staged some sort of protest when they weren't served.

You don't really want the theme of your giveaway to be "civil disobedience." Nor do you want to spend the day after what should have been your moment of triumph clarifying that "there was no riot."

(My favorite quote from the KFC spokesperson in the AP story linked above: Restaurants that are out of mashed potatoes and gravy are "substituting as best they can." I don't want to know.)

This is all not to mention, by the way, that Oprah is also a past PETA award winner, and the animal-rights folks are feeling a little burned.

Oprah giveth, and Oprah taketh away, is the thing. If you throw in with Oprah, you have to be prepared to serve America — all of it, at the same time. Kentucky Grilled Chicken is now the James Frey of fast food: something Oprah threw her support behind, and now will wind up having to apologize for in one way or another.

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