KFC's 'Double Down' Sandwich: The Mother of All Viral Campaigns?

Last Updated Aug 28, 2009 10:56 AM EDT

You are a marketing director for KFC, a company that is test marketing a sandwich called the Double Down. This product is getting universally panned by people in the health industry, by food critics, by the media in general.

Double Down may have its supporters, but they are probably dead after eating one. Why?

The sandwich dispenses with the traditional bread wrapper and substitutes two fried chicken fillets as the bun. Inside the "bun" resides bacon, two types of cheese, and a special sauce.

Search "Double Down KFC" and you will experience the start of a viral buzz like you've never seen, including mentions in the LA Times, Fox News, Huffington Post, Epicurious, Kansas City Star, Atlanta Journal Constitution and thisiswhyyourrefat.com, for starters. Somewhat typical in tone is this KC Star reader poll, KFC's Double Down sandwich turning heads, stomachs
If you are KFC, what do you do? I see two ways this plays out for the Colonel's team.

One option is to say, hey, this product is targeted at a very specific audience, it's not labeled health food, and all this free publicity is going to ensure that every potential customer with an adventurous appetite is going to know about it. It's all just gravy on the cake.

The downside is KFC is made a laughing stock on shows from David Letterman to the News Hour With Jim Lehrer. The Onion publishes a special edition. President Obama calls for a third health care system just to treat Double Down customers. Despite what they say, not all publicity is good publicity.

So you are a KFC big shot. What's your next step?

(Double Down image courtesy foodgeekery.com)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.