It 'Was' Finger Lickin’ Good

KFC has decided to suspend its 64-year-old slogan, following other brands reacting to COVID-19. When this makes sense—and when it doesn’t.

In the age of coronavirus, licking your fingers after a good meal may not be such a good thing—and it seems like Kentucky Fried Chicken thinks so, too.

Following several other big brands with messaging that’s awkward in the age of COVID-19, the international fast-food chain recently announced plans to suspend its iconic “Finger Lickin’ Good” slogan in light of the ongoing pandemic. The company says the 64-year-old catchphrase “doesn’t feel quite right” but will return to it later.

To be sure, the change, along with shifts by other brands, seems like a no-brainer. And some clearly are. But experts say as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, shifting public focus around, leaders today will need to be extra careful about when—and when not—to pull away from their messaging and be mindful about what would replace it. “You don’t want a leading company out there, reinforcing a message that seems contradictory,” says Dave Rossi, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and leader of the firm’s Global Industrial Marketing Advisory. “You want to reinforce to all stakeholders that you’re doing this the right way.”

At the onset of the crisis, Nike traded its signature “Just Do It” slogan for the more apt “Play Inside, Play for the World.” The COVID-related campaign, which featured pro athletes like soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, emphasized the need for social distancing while at the same time encouraging consumers to stay active through virtual communities. Ford also revamped its entire marketing strategy, rolling out its “Built for America” campaign—a play on its famous motto, “Built Ford Tough. In doing so, the automaker said it wanted messaging that was more “reassuring” rather than selling cars. “The crisis forced companies to be much more thoughtful, much more mindful, and much more aware of how and what they communicate to their customer,” says Zach Peikon, a principal in Korn Ferry’s Marketing Officers Practice

For leaders, especially in marketing, the pandemic—as well as the current fight against racial injustice—is only refocusing attention on corporate purpose. But that means tracking consumer views of brands at a time consumer interests continue to hyper-evolve. Leaders must be “constantly in touch with what’s going on with their consumer,” says Caren Fleit, leader of Korn Ferry’s Global Marketing Officers Practice.  While regular surveys, marketing emails, and focus groups are ways of taking customers’ pulse, organizations will also have to make sure they have the “right structure and right level of agility” to adapt to their customer rapidly, says Fleit. “You can’t be customer-centric if everyone is operating in a silo,” she says.