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KFC Discovers the Overwhelming Power of Oprah

As the economy drags down restaurant traffic, a lot of places have been experimenting with cheap eats -- or even giving away food for free.

KFC has been prominent in the giveaway movement. It debuted its grilled chicken with a day of free samples, and for Mother's Day, it's offering gift coupons to those sporting tattoos related to moms.

But for that promotion, the company had the foresight to limit it to the first 200 takers. Not so with another promotion, which had Oprah Winfrey persuading her massive fan base to download free coupons for grilled chicken off the Internet. The campaign was so successful that several outlets ran out of the product, and there were even reports of angry diners in Manhattan refusing to leave until the manager honored their coupons (though stories of actual riots were apparently exaggerated).

"It's unprecedented in our more than 50 years," a KFC spokeswoman said. "It beats anything we've ever done."

Well, duh, says one blogger. What did they expect? It's Oprah Winfrey. "Oprah has a pretty sizable following (think: Earth)." The post goes on to list other giveaways over the years -- including one from Quiznos and another from PepsiCo -- that wound up being a little too successful.

On top of leading hoards of people to KFC, Oprah's support for the chain also stirred up some lively debates. As my colleague at BNET Advertising reported, some are wondering if it might be kind of racist to use black people to advertise a fried chicken chain.

Others are mad at Oprah because of how KFC's chickens are treated, and food industry critic Marion Nestle took on the issue of whether it actually makes us healthier when a greasy fast food chain introduces a less-unhealthy option like grilled chicken.

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