Friday 22 May 2009

PETA Takes on the Colonel: KFC and Potholes Redux

It turns out the KFC campaign to repair potholes has yet another twist. While not mentioned in the Business Week article (one wonders why), a reader alerted me to the fact that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) reportedly offered to cover potholes in selected cities and to contribute twice as a much ($6,000) as that contributed by KFC. In exchange, PETA would include the following chalk message--"KFC Tortures Animals" (that instead of the message--"Re-Freshed by KFC.").

PETA has been waging a vigorous campaign for several years against what PETA describes as abuse by KFC of chickens in the process of providing its poultry products to consumers. No city, it seems, has taken PETA up on its offer. That position was well-stated by the Media Relations Director of Chattanooga, Tennessee as follows:
"The City of Chattanooga receives donations from a variety of sources and is grateful for all of them, including that of KFC. While we appreciate PETA's dedication and passion towards their mission, it would be inappropriate to accept their offer with the awkward requirement that would effectively use the City of Chattanooga to malign a particular corporation."
And so the question: What exactly was the motivation of the KFC campaign to repair potholes? Was it primarily intended as a means to counter PETA's attacks on KFC, or was the message of good citizenry less concerned with PETA and more intended to burnish KFC's image with the ultimate purpose of reaping commercial benefit?

If the former, then KFC could have expected PETA to try and mount a counterattack. If so, one wonders how great a risk KFC viewed the likelihood of such a counterattack actually being carried out. Recall the words of the Chattanooga Media Director, which emphasized the negative aspect of the proposed PETA message as a major reason for rejecting PETA's offer (despite the fact that it was apparently more attractive financially). When weighing the positive message of KFC and the negative message of PETA, the advantage would seem to like with KFC. If so, the risk that KFC could be bested by PETA in this battle for the hearts and minds of the local citizenry seems moderate at best.

If the latter motivation was paramount for KFC, the risk that PETA would prevail seems even more remote. This is because, in such a situation, it appears even more unlikely that a city would accept PETA's offer. Under the KFC offer, the city is able to add to its coffers (albeit in a modest amount) while KFC ultimately benefits financially from the positive image that it fosters. Under such a view, the PETA counter-offer seems fundamentally out of place, and to accept it would involve the city in an unnecessary public controversy.

If the foregoing analysis is correct, then it suggests one more conclusion. PETA did not ab initio consider its likelihood of successfully convincing a city to accept its counter-offer to be high. From the beginning, PETA viewed its ultimate platform as the press, especially the on-line press, which would cover the proposed PETA counter-offer and thereby provide PETA with free media coverage. Such coverage would be welcomed by PETA supporters and might even succeed in adding new converts to the PETA clause.

See in this way, the KFC-PETA point/counter-point was win-win situation, each winning in a different arena and each directed towards a different audience.

Win-win: a view from the pasture

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