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redpepper Reacts: KFC vs. Starbucks

Our two cents on the brands' "we're back" messaging strategies

As cities across the globe begin reopening, brands are starting to promote “we’re back” messages. Most recently, KFC (UK) and Starbucks have released TV ads announcing their re-entry. Leveraging remote production strategies of user-generated content and animation, each took a different path to the message. And this delicate terrain will soon be explored by many brands, we had our experts weigh in. But first, a look at the spots:

I have a soft spot for advertising that resonates deeply while delivering a clear message. And, full disclosure, I have an even softer spot for fried chicken and double dirty chai lattes. I think Starbucks missed an enormous opportunity to tap into peoples’ emotional connection to the brand—which is every bit as much a part of the cultural fabric as KFC, if not more, and its customers are ferociously passionate about it. And while the aesthetic is on brand and the animation is perfectly executed, the advertisement only left me knowing how I can go about getting my double dirty chai fix. But I don’t think I’ll be getting one again any time soon.

I will, however, be having KFC for dinner.

Nate Fleming, Director of Strategy

KFC’s point is that your at-home fried chicken isn’t as good as our fried chicken, but of course, they wouldn’t want to show user-generated chicken that looks a bit icky out of fear of losing your attention. So I find myself watching this and thinking, “The homemade chicken still looks pretty darn tasty without the risk of going out. Hmm.” I’m just not compelled by the angle to emerge from my couch for some KFC. That said, user-generated content driving commercials? All for it.

Starbucks’ animation style is beautiful. There is so much “new” to be dealt with, it’s nice to have a brand feel the same as ever. That said, I am a tad disappointed in the practicality of the messaging. Isn’t this a moment for a brand as big as Starbucks, who arrived at global domination through creating spaces to gather, to say something important about that craving in humans? Starbucks represents so many of the things we deeply miss. Routines. Small treats. Lingering. Meeting friends. Coziness. Choice. This spot could have been a moment to lift up any of these things with perspective on what they mean for us now. Instead, I know how to use their app.

Bri Moran, Senior Art Director

In a time of really intense, over-played ads around “these difficult times,” KFC uses user-generated content to announce that “they’re back” in a refreshing and comical way. A much-needed giggle break in a sea of emotionally exhausting ads. 

Starbucks’ ad seems like a quick-turn way to get people back in stores so they can start spelling our name wrong again. There wasn’t much thought, no emotional pull, and no mention of how they’re going to keep us safe. Also, most stores have a drive-through so, since not much is changing, it seems like an unnecessary announcement in the first place.

Caroline Meyer, Account Executive

At the end of the day, fried chicken and coffee aren’t saving lives, and I appreciate that neither brand is trying to be more than it is in these ads. I also appreciate that they don’t make it hard to choose a favorite.

Starbucks, in a word, lacked. They didn’t step on any toes, but they didn’t perk any ears either. They took a forgettable slice-and-bake approach, using the moment to keep the focus on them and their app, delivered with mechanized VO. I get the intention—offering an app to help people do more online than in-store, but it bumps heads with a brick-and-mortar re-opening announcement, ultimately falling flat.

KFC owned their space without overstepping. They played within the light that’s gotten us all through the dark of this pandemic. From the beginning, we’ve seen people using social platforms to both cope and connect over this strange, shared experience. Somehow, silly mirror TikToks make us feel less alone. KFC found their little slice of this—where shared humanness meets fried chicken and Celine Dion—and let it lead into a very natural passageway, “We’ll take it from here.” It’s simple, but thoughtful. People feel thought.

Erin Sephel, Copywriter

Both of these are okay, but neither one particularly grabs my attention. The Starbucks ad is well-done and has a good call-to-action. The KFC ad makes more of an emotional connection with the chicken frying in the pan and the music—and it appeals to my desire for comfort food at a time when most of us could use a little comfort. It makes me a little hungry and more likely to want some chicken delivered to my door.

Cat Garnett, Senior Strategist

I personally relate to the KFC creative. I have cooked all but maybe 3 meals over the past two months. There are dishes that no matter how many times I make them, they’ll never be on the same level as my favorite restaurant. The UGC footage did its job, and when it was time to switch to the perfectly styled, slow-motion product shots, the spot delivered at just the right time. Overall, the production was simple and, with the exception of the music track (which absolutely made the spot), budget-friendly.

Starbucks on the other hand gave us what you would expect from them. A well done, engaging animation spot that was true to their brand. I feel the core strategy was more about pushing the adoption of their mobile app (which I 100% support the use of as we begin our new normal) and less about a “we’re back” strategy. But maybe that’s the point because we’re most certainly coming back to something different.

Matt Weber, Producer/Production Manager

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