KFC’s chicken welfare is nothing to make a song and dance about
How the controversial strutting chicken in KFC’s recent advert provided the perfect opportunity for us to engage with KFC and their customers in a new way.
There are more chickens than any other farm animal on the planet. In fact, there are at least six chickens to every human. It is also the world’s second favourite meat product, accounting for 35% of all meat consumption. But how much thought do we give to the lives of these intelligent, complex animals?
With 60 billion chickens farmed every year – two thirds in poor welfare conditions – the plight of chickens is undoubtedly one of the most pressing and monumental animal welfare issues we face today. But the matter receives little attention, and chickens suffer largely in secret.
Recently though, we’ve noticed a shift. People seem to be showing more concern for where their meat comes from and the quality of farming practices.
This summer, the public and the media were outraged at suggestions we might start importing chlorinated chicken from the US after Brexit.
"Charges that the KFC advert was ‘offensive’, ‘distressing’ and ‘misleading’ showed that many people recognised that ‘The Whole Chicken’ campaign was not telling the whole story."
And when KFC launched a new advert in July showing a muscular, swaggering chicken strutting in time ‘X Gon’ Give It To Ya’ by DMX, the Advertising Standards Authority received hundreds of complaints. Charges that the advert was ‘offensive’, ‘distressing’ and ‘misleading’ showed that many people recognised that ‘The Whole Chicken’ campaign was not telling the whole story.
World Animal Protection took a keen interest in this debate, as we’ve been fighting to raise chicken welfare since 2016 as part of our #ChangeForChickens campaign. Specifically we’ve been targeting KFC as one of the world’s most iconic fast food restaurants, recognising that if we can convince them to take the lead on improving their farming conditions, other brands will likely follow suit.
So in fact, we saw the controversial advert as a key opportunity for two reasons.
First of all, fast food adverts don’t typically connect the tasty morsel on the plate with the animal on the farm. But while the advertising sector raised a collective eyebrow at the advert, we thought it represented a step in the right direction when it comes to getting consumers to think about where their food has come from.
"We’ve been targeting KFC as one of the world’s most iconic fast food restaurants, recognising that if we can convince them to take the lead on improving their farming conditions, other brands will likely follow suit."
And secondly, and more importantly, the advert gave us a huge opportunity to engage with KFC and their customers in a new way.
The advert was the result of a new partnership between KFC and advertising agency Mother, who launched an accompanying campaign designed to showcase the supposed quality of KFC chicken. Other attention-grabbing tactics included a graffiti wall opposite the agency’s headquarters in London’s trendy Shoreditch.
We knew we would have to be even more bold in our response if we wanted to draw attention to the welfare issue. Armed with stencils and buckets of paint, our team took over the same wall opposite the Mother offices in Shoreditch to plaster our message to KFC.
Our approach was simple – using the same impactful style as their own billboard ads, we asked if KFC’s ‘Whole Chicken’ campaign was telling the whole truth. Once we had people’s attention, we launched a social media campaign detailing the two specific areas where we are calling on KFC to improve.
Firstly, we are asking KFC to use chickens that grow at a more natural rate. Since the 1960s, chickens have been genetically selected to grow more than three times faster, and now reach full grown slaughter weight in around 6 weeks. This extreme growth rate can cause painful heart, lung and leg problems for the chickens. We juxtaposed the reality for the fast-growing birds with the healthy chicken in the advert, overlaying messages such as “chickens can’t dance with heart failure” – all presented in that same red and white style.
"Put it this way: the trays KFC serve their meals on are bigger than the space each chicken is given to live out its short life."
Secondly, we are asking KFC to give their chickens more space to move around. On their website, KFC claims they adhere to standards that fill sheds with around 18 chickens per square metre of floor space. Put it this way: the trays KFC serve their meals on are bigger than the space each chicken is given to live out its short life. We shared images of the cramped conditions for chickens on a typical factory farm to drive this point home.
Based on our research, we know that if more people knew the truth about the production of the chicken meat they buy, they would want to support higher welfare options. And at the time of writing, we have so far amassed more than 10,000 signatures for our #ChangeforChickens petition in the UK since the launch of this new activity.
We’re delighted to say that our stunt prompted a meeting at KFC UK and Ireland headquarters just one week after it launched. And though conversations are still in their early stages, KFC UK&I committed to working with us to look at how they can improve their welfare standards.
Now that animal welfare is on the agenda for one of the world’s biggest fast food chains, we are one step closer towards a brighter future for chickens.