Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld in relation to ad (c) only.
An email and two outdoor poster ads for KFC, seen in October and November 2023:
a. The email included an image with text that stated “FINALLY F CKIN’ GOOD”. The letters between the “F” and “CKIN’” were covered by chips. Text underneath stated "NOT-SO HUMBLE BRAG. OUR NEW SIGNATURE FRIES ARE FINALLY FINGER-LICKIN’ GOOD”. Further text in the ad included references to “finger-lickin’”.
b. The first poster ad, seen on the London Underground, included the same image of text that was partially covered by chips as ad (a). Further text in the ad included references to “finger-lickin’”.
c. The second poster ad, seen at a bus stop and other locations, included the same image of text that was partially covered by chips as ad (a).
The ASA received 11 complaints.
1. All of the complainants challenged whether the ads were offensive because they alluded to an expletive.
2. Some of the complainants also challenged whether ads (b) and (c) were appropriate for display where they could be seen by children.
1. Kentucky Fried Chicken (Great Britain) Ltd t/a KFC did not believe that the ads were offensive. “F CKIN’ GOOD” was a reference to their trademarked slogan “Finger Lickin’ Good”, which had been used since the 1950s, was a widely recognised part of their identity, and made it highly relevant to the product being advertised. The placement of the fries over the words “Finger Lickin’” served as a visual representation of their new signature fries. The ads were part of their wider ‘signature fries’ campaign, which were displayed on their website, social media, in emails to customers and out-of-home advertising. Throughout the campaign, there were consistent references to their fries being “Finger Lickin’ Good”, which reinforced that the obstructed letters in the ads should have been associated with “Finger Lickin’” rather than an expletive. However, they did not believe that the further wording clarifying the obscured wording was required in order to make clear that it was not referring to an expletive because of the widespread public recognition of the slogan “Finger Lickin’ Good”.
They provided market research that indicated that 90% of consumers associated the tagline to KFC. They also provided a number of articles that demonstrated that “Finger Lickin’ Good” regularly appeared on top slogan lists worldwide, and the significant publicity garnered by KFC when it suspended the use of the slogan amid the Covid-19 pandemic. This data supported that “Finger Lickin’ Good” was intrinsically linked with the KFC brand and highly recognisable by the public. Therefore, it was unlikely that many consumers would fail to make the connection between the obstructed letters and their slogan, reducing the likelihood that the ads caused serious or widespread offence.
They referred to ASA guidance on obscuring expletives and previous ASA rulings that had obscured the word ‘fucking’. They considered that the content of their ads was clearly distinguishable from these because of the size of the gap between the ‘f’ and the ‘c’ and the use of “Good” after the obscured word, which consumers would have connected to their slogan “Finger Lickin’ Good” rather than an expletive. Also, because some of the ads in the campaign included unobscured references to “Finger Lickin’”, they did not believe that the ads were a problem.
Even if consumers connected the ads to an expletive, they did not believe that they were likely to cause serious or widespread offence. They believed that societal attitudes towards expletives had shifted since the ASA’s research on ‘Public perceptions of harm and offence in UK advertising’ that was published in 2012.
2. They did not believe that ads (b) and (c) had been inappropriately targeted. They were aware of their responsibilities to target all ads in compliance with the CAP Code and took great care in ad placement. All their marketing efforts were carefully directed towards an adult audience. They had internal targeting regulations that required that ads should not be displayed within a 200-metre radius of schools, strongly reducing the likelihood of children seeing the ads.
They said that JCDecaux UK, an outdoor media owner, submitted a very similar creative to the CAP Copy Advice team on their behalf, who advised them that the ad was likely to be acceptable. Similar creatives were submitted to Transport for London and National Rail, both of whom confirmed that the creative met their requirements.
Clear Channel said that, although it was not for them to decide whether a campaign was suitable for publication, they raised concerns about the copy with the agency prior to publication. However, the agency confirmed that they had engaged with the CAP Copy Advice team. Clear Channel also applied their standard prohibition on all HFSS campaigns to the ads, which meant that it would not be displayed within 200 metres of any schools.
JCDecaux said that they sought advice from the CAP Copy Advice team who advised that the ad they submitted was likely to be acceptable.
Ocean Outdoor said that because the claim “Finger Lickin’ Good” had been KFC’s tagline since the 1950s, the public would be well aware of the slogan. They had not received any complaints directly about the ads.
Global said they had not received any complaints.
1. & 2. Upheld in relation to ad (c) only
The CAP Code stated that ads must be prepared with a sense of responsibility, and must not contain anything that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
The ads included the claim “FINALLY F CKIN’ GOOD” where the letters between the “F” and “CKIN’” were obscured by chips. The ASA noted that the obscured claim was a reference to their tagline, ‘finger lickin’ good’. We acknowledged the evidence KFC provided demonstrated that the tagline was well known, but nonetheless considered that many consumers would not have been familiar with it.
We considered that “fuck” was a word so likely to offend that it should not generally be used or alluded to in advertising. We also considered it likely that parents would want their children to avoid the word, or obvious allusions to it.
Ad (a) was an email that was sent to consumers who had subscribed to KFC’s mailing list. Ads (b) and (c) were outdoor posters that were likely to be seen by people of all ages. In all the ads there was a large gap between the “F” and “CKIN’” that was covered by chips. We considered that some consumers would understand that there were several letters that had been obscured, and therefore the ads were not making a reference to an expletive. Furthermore, ads (a) and (b) included several references to “finger lickin’”, which we considered made immediately clear to people who saw them what the true meaning of the obscured claim was, and that it was not an expletive. Additionally, with regards to ad (a), we considered that because this was sent to KFC’s mailing list subscribers, many recipients were likely to be aware of KFC’s tagline. For those reasons, we concluded that the obscured claim would be understood as referring to “finger lickin’” and therefore ads (a) and (b) were not likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
Ad (c) did not contain any references to “finger lickin’”. As referenced above, while some consumers would have understood from the large gap covered by chips that the obscured claim was not referring to an expletive, many would not. Therefore, in the absence of further wording to make immediately clear to viewers that the obscured wording was “finger lickin’”, we considered that the ad alluded to an expletive. We therefore concluded it was likely to cause serious or widespread offence and it was irresponsible for it to appear where children were likely to see it.
Ad (c) breached CAP (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Social responsibility) and 4.1 (Harm and offence).
We also investigated ad (a) under rule 4.1 (Harm and offence), and ad (b) under rules 1.3 (Social responsibility) and 4.1 (Harm and offence), but did not find them in breach.
Ad (c) must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Kentucky Fried Chicken (Great Britain) Ltd t/a KFC to ensure they avoided causing serious or widespread offence by, for example, avoiding references to expletives in media targeted to a general audience which included children.