KFC Trains TiVo Users to Tune In to Commercials

In response to technology that allows TV viewers to skip the ads, KFC has hidden a message in its commercials. It can be discerned when played back slowly on a VCR or DVR. And that effort earns a viewer a coupon for a chicken sandwich.


Now another very different advertising story. The popularity of digital video recorders is presenting a big challenge to the ad industry. Many viewers just skip over commercials. Now one major advertiser is trying a new strategy to get people to pay attention to its ads. Here's NPR's Adam Hochberg.

ADAM HOCHBERG, reporting:

Most viewers probably won't notice anything unusual about a commercial that's been airing the past few days on national television, extolling the virtues of KFC's newest chicken sandwich.

(Soundbite of KFC commercial)

Announcer: The new 99-cent buffalo stacker from KFC. One hundred percent chicken breast, authentic buffalo sauce, and crispy lettuce on a sesame seed bun.

HOCHBERG: But for viewers willing to spend some time with this commercial there's something hidden in it. A special code they can use to get a free sandwich coupon. The code is on screen only for a split second, too quickly to see with the naked eye. So people who want the coupon have to record the commercial with a TiVo or a similar device. Then search for the code in slow motion frame by frame. KFC spokeswoman Lori Shallow says the ad attempts to get tech savvy consumers to do something they probably wouldn't do otherwise, spend time watching a commercial.

Ms. LORI SHALLOW (Spokeswoman, KFC): This was a great way to tell people who are using TiVo, and it's currently only about 9 percent of the population, but to say, hey instead of fast forwarding through the commercial, go ahead and slow down and look at it. And it forces them to look at the commercial and see our new product introduction.

HOCHBERG: If KFC succeeds in that goal it would be no small accomplishment. One study found that TiVo users skip over commercials more than 70 percent of the time. Fast food ads are especially unpopular with more than a 90 percent zap rate. For that reason, advertising executives are keeping a close eye on the KFC campaign as they urgently look for innovative ways to retain viewers. Sean Carton directs an ad agency in Baltimore and teaches at Philadelphia University.

Mr. SEAN CARTON (Director, Baltimore Ad Agency): By 2010 somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of consumers are going to have something like a TiVo. And I think if you look at the advertisers, the demographic probably is the demographic that they're trying to reach most of the time, the more affluent people with more disposable income. That's, I think, what gets them nervous.

HOCHBERG: Carton considers the KFC commercials an interesting experiment. But he adds it will take more than free sandwiches to keep advertising relevant to the digital generation. Carton says commercials will have to become more relevant and more entertaining so people actually want to watch them. Others in the advertising business say the best way to battle the threat from digital technology is to embrace it. At the New York agency Universal McCann, David Cohen says the same technology that makes devices like TiVo work also provides new ways for advertisers to interact with consumers.

Mr. DAVID COHEN (Universal McCann): You might have seen on some commercials the ability now to run an overlay, which gives consumers the ability to use their remote control to click on something to either find deeper information or to get free samples, or I can, you know, subscribe to a sweepstakes and actually conduct commerce.

HOCHBERG: As for the commerce of selling chicken, KFC calls its promotional campaign a strong success. So far, more than 70,000 people have requested the free sandwich coupons. The company doesn't know how many of them actually viewed the commercial as opposed to learning the secret code from friends or from internet chat groups. But that detail is less important to KFC than the publicity the promotion has created. Adam Hochberg, NPR News.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.