KFC aims to give China a taste of home

A young woman wanders alone, newly arrived in one of China’s booming cities.

“Have you unpacked yet?” her anxious mother asks over the phone.  “No, I’m having dinner,” the girl replies.  “Beef with rice, just like you used to make it.”  The mother is surprised, but for her daughter, the explanation is simple.

“Mom,” she says with a smile, “I’m at KFC.”

This scene has appeared countless times on TV screens across China over the past few months, part of an ad campaign aiming to redefine the fast food giant in the eyes of local consumers.

Kentucky Fried Chicken

Pic: AP.

KFC’s success in China has long been the envy of other American chains.  Since its first restaurant opened in Beijing in 1987, KFC has expanded to nearly 3,500 franchises in over 650 cities.  McDonalds, its closest competitor, has only 1,300 outlets.

Many analysts attribute KFC’s success to its willingness to adapt to the local market.  The chain’s parent company Yum! Brands Inc. relies on native managers to run its operations, while local suppliers provide its foodstuffs.

Sam Su, chairman and CEO of Yum’s China division, describes the company’s approach as aiming for KFC “not [to] be seen as a foreign presence but as part of the local community.”

This strategy is on full display inside any one of KFC’s restaurants.  Early diners can choose from a breakfast menu ranging from rice porridge to soy milk, while lunchtime features more inventive items such as the Old Beijing Chicken Roll and Spicy Sichuan Beef Wrap.

But with the current ad campaign, KFC seems to be aiming to become not only a member of the community, but a part of the family as well.

In another 15-second TV spot, a young father asks his son what he wants for dinner.  “Can you do pork, Dad?” the toddler asks.  Dad smiles, embarrassed, and the pair soon find themselves standing in front of the welcoming gaze of Colonel Sanders.

“KFC,” a voiceover says, “food made from the heart.”

The theme is likely to be repeated more frequently in the coming months, as China prepares to celebrate the lunar new year this coming January.  Also known as the Spring Festival, it is the country’s most important holiday and is traditionally a time for family reunions.

Television ads for KFC shown during the last Spring Festival featured a bucket of fried chicken decorated with traditional new year’s motifs brought by a young man visiting his elderly parents.  Customers could purchase the buckets as part of a special four-person value meal introduced during the holiday.