Chicken war hot again as KFC and El Pollo Loco break out competitive new television campaigns

Chicken war hot again as KFC and El Pollo Loco break out competitive new television campaigns

Lest anyone think that the chicken war is over—or at least not as vicious as the burger and coffee wars—new TV campaigns by KFC and El Pollo Loco are a reminder that quick-service chicken chains can sink their claws into a good fight just as well as restaurants in other segments can.

KFC contends in a new campaign that its newly launched Toasted Wrap item tastes better than McDonald’s [3] Snack Wrap, and El Pollo Loco blasts away at any chain that claims to offer a healthful fried-chicken product simply because it’s free of trans fats.

Since Church’s [4] Chicken fired a broadside in 2006 against rival Popeyes [5] Chicken & Biscuits while aiming for a larger share of the spicy-chicken category, chicken chains had been relatively restrained in their marketing.

Church’s campaign named Popeyes in its TV spots in markets where it competed head-to-head with that chain, and actors dressed as Popeyes employees admitted they preferred Church’s spicy chicken.

Now KFC takes a head-to-head-approach in one of its spots for the Toasted Wrap, which is available in all of KFC’s 5,400 U.S. units. The spot opens on two men at a table eating wraps. The man with the Toasted Wrap describes how good it tastes. The other, who has a McDonald’s bag and drink cup next to him, is eating a Snack Wrap and replies, “Just because it’s toasted doesn’t mean it’s so much better than my Snack Wrap with ranch.”

A female friend walks by, and she’s asked to choose the wrap she prefers. She immediately points to the Toasted Wrap, which is a flour tortilla filled with a crispy white-meat chicken strip, lettuce, pepper mayonnaise and a three-cheese blend. The wrap is toasted on a grill press.

The campaign, created by Draft FCB of Chicago, introduces the new tag “Life tastes better with KFC.” The slogan is intended to reflect KFC’s claim that its product quality is a step above the quality of quick-service competitors, similar to how Wendy’s [6] is trying to achieve the same goal with its new tag, “It’s waaaay better than fast food. It’s Wendy’s.”

And just as a TV campaign by family-dining chain Denny’s [7] is warning consumers about the “fake” breakfasts that quick-service chains offer, El Pollo Loco is cautioning diners that “you can’t fake healthy” when it comes to chicken.

TV spots for the chain don’t single out competitors by name, but it’s a good bet that KFC unknowingly ignited this latest battle in the chicken war.

KFC, a division of Louisville, Ky.-based Yum! [8] Brands Inc., was the first national quick-service chain to promote its switch to frying oil containing zero grams of trans fats. A TV campaign last spring boasted about the “same great taste” of its new trans-fat-free chicken.

The first spot in the new El Pollo Loco campaign, created by Krueger Communications of Los Angeles, opens on a mom and her two children standing at the counter of the “Greasy Fried Chicken” chain. The order taker asks, “May I fool you?”

Mom orders the “extra oily family meal,” and the order taker asks, “Should I slap a zero-grams-trans-fat label on it so you think you’re eating healthy?”

A voice-over says, “You can’t fake healthy” as a cleaver bearing the same words appears on screen.

The spot then promotes El Pollo Loco’s citrus-marinated chicken by noting that the chain’s signature product is “flame grilled before your eyes so it’s healthier and delicious, naturally.”

El Pollo Loco’s goal is to remind consumers that the chain’s chicken is a naturally healthful product and that competitors who position chicken fried in trans-fat-free oil as healthful are “trying to fool the public,” said Mark Hardison, vice president of marketing for the 392-unit El Pollo Loco, based in Costa Mesa, Calif.

El Pollo Loco is airing a separate campaign for the Hispanic market that focuses on the passion that the chain’s cooks have for grilling chicken. The “Passing the Passion” campaign, created by cruz/kravetz: IDEAS of Los Angeles, profiles four different cooks and uses background music to show how their culinary skills are passed on as meals to customers.

“Hispanics know this form of cooking from their homelands and from their parents,” Hardison said. “We go a little bit closer to the way the product is prepared.”

KFC’s spots use a recurring cast of characters in different situations to make the brand more contemporary while maintaining the brand heritage.

“We want to build a sense of community with the KFC brand,” said chief marketing officer James O’Reilly. “Customers tell us that KFC is a step above ordinary fast food.”

Campaign spending, including broadcast ads and a significant online initiative, is “about double what we would normally spend in any given period of time,” he said.

The Toasted Wrap is the first in a line of toasted sandwiches, O’Reilly noted.