Complaints that an ad for KFC perpetuated negative ethnic stereotypes have been dismissed by the Advertising Standards Authority.
The spot created by Mother London, which ran on TV during March 2021, featured two young black men in a KFC restaurant waiting at the counter for their food order, during which a voiceover stated: “Get 10 KFC mini fillets for £4.99 and feel like a big deal."
As the men collected their food, their legs became animated chicken digits with feathers floating around them as they strutted and danced to hip-hop music on the way to a table, while other customers looked on.
The complainants claimed the ad perpetuated negative ethnic stereotypes in colonial America by mocking enslaved people of black origin and suggesting that all black people love to eat fried chicken.
In response to the complaints, the fast-food giant said the ad was intended to promote the “winning” feeling consumers might get when purchasing the brand’s “Big Deal” offer.
KFC said that while the two young men were the lead actors, people of other ethnicities were featured sitting in the restaurant and therefore the ad did not imply people of a particular race were more or less likely to be a KFC guest or eat the product.
The ad was one of a series of six, which featured a range of different actors of various ethnicities in the leading roles, including white actors as the lead.
The broadcast clearance body Clearcast said that during the initial approval process for the ad – which received three complaints in total - it considered previous KFC campaigns that used a similar creative where the actors’ heads were animated to look like chickens.
It said all those previous ads featured a hip-hop inspired soundtrack and young men and women wearing street clothes, doing activities associated with youth culture, such as basketball, BMXing and dancing.
Those ads were instrumental in their decision to clear the ad. Furthermore, the body said it was important for an ad to be relevant to the demographic it targeted, and in KFC’s case the key target audience was people in their late teens and twenties, so the music and the actors reflected that and were integral to the success of the ad.
The ASA, which investigated the ad for harm and offence, found it not to be in breach, noting it was intended to promote KFC’s money-saving food deals and that the fast-food giant’s ads often featured young people in a casual setting.
The watchdog added: “However, we understood that there was a historic association between black people and cooking and eating fried chicken; we therefore considered whether the ad reinforced a negative ethnic stereotype."
The ASA said that while the ad was one of six, this particular spot had to be considered in isolation given that some viewers would not have seen the other ads.
The men were not depicted in a mocking derogatory manner and the animation added to the "light-hearted" feel of the ad, the regulator said.
It concluded: “We did not consider the ad suggested that all black people ate fried chicken, or were more likely to do so than any other ethnic group.
"While we acknowledged that some viewers who saw the ad and were aware of the existence of the historic negative ethnic stereotype might find it distasteful, we considered that the ad was unlikely to be seen as perpetuating that stereotype and we therefore concluded the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.”