Do Words Matter? Not at KFC, Apparently.

June 26th, 2007 by Bob Bly

The voice-over in a recent KFC commercial for their thighs and drumstick bucket says the chicken now contains “less” transfat.

Less than what? Less doesn’t mean anything unless you say what it has less fat than.

While we hear the voice-over, the words “0% transfat” appear on the screen.

Hey, that’s not less transfat. That’s NO transfat. Shouldn’t the script say “no transfat”?

This may seem a small nitpik, but words matter, especially when you consider the price KFC paid to create and run that spot.

Isn’t “zero transfat” the big health selling point here? “Less” communicates that it still has some transfat, just not as much as before.

But since we don’t know how much transfat KFC’s chicken had before (they don’t tell us), or how much they reduced transfat, the phrase “less transfat” is virtually meaningless.

Right?

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26 responses about “Do Words Matter? Not at KFC, Apparently.”

  1. Tim Schaefer said:

    Certainly seems like NO trans-fat should be the correct phrase in the voice over.

    The thing that annoys me about KFC’s “the bucket’s back” TV spots are how they portray the average American family (or namely, the wife) as caring about the amount of trans fat in their fast food. Judging by the hordes of people who still drive through McDonald’s every day (where trans fats are still in use)… they don’t.

    Perhaps comparative advertising would drive their point home by turning people off to burgers and onto finger lickin’ goodness as a (I’m chuckling to say this) “healthier” option.

  2. Gamermk - Chicken Good? said:

    I don’t know how long ago I read about it, but I recall a study done that found KFC to be the healthier choice of fast food relative to all the burger joints. Now whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but if it is they definitely should be attacking that angle.

  3. Daryl Ellis said:

    The KFC ad I’ve seen flashes an image on screen that reads “0% Trans Fat” and then in mouseprint under it: “per serving.” This struck me as odd and, after thinking about it, I concluded that this means that there still is a miniscule about of trans fat in the food (less than one half of 1% I assume). This would explain your observation, also. Sneaky, but probably technically accurate.

  4. Sean Woodruff said:

    It also depends on what the definition of ‘is’, is…

  5. Steve Zissou said:

    One of the national morning shows had a story last year that showed that the amount of trans fat in a KFC value meal (believe it was three piece plus potato wedges and cole slaw, or some other similar enormous load of food) was equivalent to 30 McDonald’s cheeseburgers. I very, very rarely eat fried chicken, but that iced it for me, no more KFC in this lifetime.

    Maybe they are healthier than burger joints now, but they certainly didn’t seem to be that way in the recent past (from a trans-fat perspective anyway).

    Studies are showing that the majority of these restaurants that have gone trans-fat free have just replaced the trans-fats with other fats that are equally bad for you. Yet, so many of us feel healthier eating trans-fat free. Behold the power of marketing!

  6. Paul Robb said:

    Nice post, Bob. Preach on!

    I like Daryl’s explanation here, because it seems to fit.

    Paul

  7. Bob Bly said:

    Not to argue with Paul and Daryl, but since this is about words — if a single serving has 0% trans fat, then a bucket holding 10 servings must also have no trans fat, since 10 X 0 = 0.

  8. Katie Cummings said:

    Hey, KFC still stands for Kentucky Fried Chicken, keyword fried. I think it is a crappy way of avoiding the fact that there most likely is trans fat. Or it seems maybe they don’t really know if there’s trans fat or not. Whatever the case, I agree, it’s dumb to have conflicting points and even in a single ad. Oh, I got it, maybe they are rounding down from 0.49. Who knows, but I don’t think it is nitpiking to notice such inconsistencies.

  9. Robert Rosenthal said:

    In a short TV spot, I think it’s reasonable to assume viewers will generally believe “less trans fat” is less trans fat than before. But without more specificity, viewers could conclude that the difference is miniscule.

    As for the contradictory “less trans fat” voiceover and “0 trans fat” text, that’s just weird. I poked around on the KFC website and found a possible explanation. All KFC menu items now have 0 trans fat, with one exception: KFC Snacker Ultimate Cheese. Maybe it was a case of copy by committee.

    Full disclosure: I love the Colonel. Always have.

  10. Jodi Kaplan said:

    The reason for the “less” versus “zero” is that FDA rules allow a company to say 0% trans fat if it contains less than .5 gram PER SERVING. So, the chicken, or chips, or whatever could have .25% of trans fat, but could still be labeled as 0% trans fat. Clear as mud?

  11. Riel Langlois, writer of Canadian comic books said:

    When I read this post I thought it was probably some FDA technicality that made the writing bad, something like “We can only say 0% PER SERVING, but not in general because there are too many grams of trans fat in a full bucket.” I think Jodi has it pegged.

  12. Tim Schweizer said:

    Bob, I think it makes sense; it allows them two accomplish two things. First, it makes their food sound like it has improved. Second, it also allows them to communicate a “comparative message” (indirectly) about KFC’s competitors. You can take the message either way, so they leverage the communication message by letting the listener interpret the meaning.

  13. Michael said:

    Sounds like advertise-ese to me. But, you’re right—saying “less than” gives the impression that they were comparing it to something. Perhaps Kentucky Fried Chicken was trying to imply that its chicken now contains “less transfat” [than its competition]. That way when someone is contemplating going out for chicken and the choice is between Kentucky Fried Chicken and its competition, the customer will remember the sentence in the commercial ‘our chicken has “less transfat”’ and will fill in the missing part in his head with “than X”. Just a thought.

    Me? I prefer In-N-Out Burger.

  14. Carey said:

    Bob? Great math. From all of this discussing, I now have the “Chicken Dance” in my brain. As a vegetarian, I’m just glad that tofu definitely contains 0 Trans Fats. …Right?

  15. Amy Derby said:

    I saw this commercial for the first time last night and thought, “Huh??”

    Now, I’m no copywriting genius, and I’ve never written a commercial ad, but throughout the entire commercial, I was focusing on the poor advertising rather than on their product. I’d say that’s bad.

    FDA regulations or not, it’s confusing. They should say “less than 1% transfat per serving” or something that is clear and doesn’t need to be contradicted with a “zero transfat” message across the screen.

    Just the opinion of one gal who previously watched the KFC commercials for the coleslaw.

  16. jack said:

    The problem is very clear to me. The advertiser has determined that we are just a bunch of stupid consumers. Most likely not paying any attention to the commercials, no matter the product, but we do know the product and that and that alone is the important thing. Here is the rule, say anything you want just make sure the viewer can identify my product. In the end, it all comes down to money. How much KFC can you eat?

  17. yer mum said:

    Okay , in the KFC drumstick and thigh bucket commercial ; will someone please explain to me why the father and son laugh after the mother corrects the guest by saying “It’s Mrs Barber” and not “Nancy” ?

  18. Hurley Mon said:

    I have asked myself this question everytime I see the ad, and here is what I have come to believe – SADLY……They laugh because they are making fun of their well mannered guest. Sure the trans fat debate is valid, but I would rather debate and chastise KFC for debasing manners and poking fun being polite. And barber kid get a hair cut – shame on you KFC for not having even a hit of Southern manners

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