Buckets of Embarrassment for KFC in Cancer Promotion

Last Updated May 4, 2010 9:09 AM EDT

KFC is surely well-intentioned with its Buckets for the Cure cancer-charity promotion, which aims to raise $8.5 million by selling bright pink buckets of... fattening fried chicken that tends to make diners overweight and more predisposed to developing cancer. Which makes this campaign a striking example of cause dissonance -- conflict between a company's core business and the message of its corporate philanthropy.

Perhaps if KFC's campaign to give 50 cents a bucket to Susan G. Komen For the Cure hadn't been launched so close to the debut of its grotesque new bunless chicken-and-bacon concoction, the KFC Double Down, the mismatch of company and donor wouldn't have been quite so glaring. But even that aside, the company can't seem to avoid the reality that its food is part of the problem.

It even seems to emphasize the fact in its TV ad, in which a huge pink ribbon is built out of a massive swath of fried chicken buckets. Subliminal message -- eat enough of this stuff, and you'd better hope they find a cure for breast cancer.

To top it off, KFC managers haven't just put a little pink ribbon on a corner of its buckets, like so many products that give to women's-cancer charities do. Instead, the familiar red-white-and-blue buckets have gone all-over bright pink, a real gaffe given that the core audience for fast food is young males. Somehow, it's hard to imagine, say, a college senior hauling a bright pink bucket over to a friend's couch to watch the big game. Cue the ribbing.

Unscientific poll: the grown man and 17-year-old high-school junior in my family laughed their heads off while viewing the ad. Just sayin'.

So far KFC reports the campaign has raised $3 million of its goal. When the sales figures come in for next quarter, we'll get a sense of whether Buckets for the Cure drove any sales growth, or perhaps just drove customers away.

Bucket sign photo via Flickr user SqueakyMarmot; Pink bucket photo: KFC Corp.

  • Carol Tice

    Carol Tice is a longtime business reporter whose work has appeared in Entrepreneur, The Seattle Times, and Nation's Restaurant News, among others. Online sites she's written for include Allbusiness.com and Yahoo!Hotjobs. She blogs about the business of writing at Make a Living Writing.