The digital strategy of KFC in China vs. KFC in Russia

12 May 2014



How is restaurant chain KFC adapting its messages on social media to the Chinese and Russian markets?

KFC is one of the most popular fast food chains the world, owned by Yum! Brands (the restaurant company also owning Taco Bell and Pizza Hut). Started from Kentucky, it counts today over 18 thousand locations across 118 countries, second only to McDonald’s in terms of global diffusion.

Let’s see the different strategies the fired chicken chain have been implementing in recent years, in order to maintain and increase its business through digital platforms in China and Russia.


KFC in China: learning from the mistakes

KFC entered Chinese market in 1987, and it’s now the largest restaurant chain in the country, with a total of 4,563 restaurants. Despite this, its path to conquer the market has always been arduous.

The first communication problems for KFC in China are dated back to the very beginning, with a wrong translation of its famous slogan – “Finger Lickin’ Good”, which was mistranslated into Mandarin as “Eat Your Fingers Off”.

Today KFC communicate with its consumers via its well-established social media channels: the official page on SinaWeibo counts 900 thousand followers, the long time running RenRen community is still active (with over 250 thousand fans), and the brand is present with a WeChat account (picture below).


kfc wechat


The KFC mobile strategy is strictly product and marketing-oriented: the WeChat channel has a feature allowing its followers to get food delivered at home, and has a section with all the promotions KFC is currently running. The brand also has other mobile apps focused on food delivery, providing customers who use it a series of offers and discounts.


KFC China app


But even a quite well-established digital presence is not always enough to protect a brand.

Back in 2012 KFC experienced a strong crisis after China Central Television (CCTV) accused the brand of using unapproved antibiotics and growth-hormones to grow their chicken. Later in 2013, CCTV continued to destroy the brand’s reputation with a statement that quickly became big news all across mainland China: they reported that the ice in KFC soft drinks contained more bacteria than toilet water (source: AdAge).


KFC China


KFC was not fast with its reaction, sometimes taking up to two months to reply to negative comments on Sina Weibo. This caused a real boom of complaints on social media, and it eventually caused a decrease in sales: on January 2013 it was reported that KFC sales in China fell 41% compared to the previous year (source: Wikipedia).


So, KFC made several mistakes based on there points:

  • In the Chinese culture apologies do work a lot, so apologies could often end the crisis.
  • Chinese are quick in using social media, and they expect a quick feedback.
  • Being an international company, KFC local social media managers were not able to react quickly, as they were waiting for the central office to confirm each communication.


In order to protect its reputation and to conquer its audience back, KFC set up a full online platform dealing with any possible food control issue, such as the quality of their products, or the way all ingredients are grown and cooked. Also, a special source was created to reply to customers complaints and communicate with anyone interested in knowing more about the brand and its products.




KFC in Russia: going viral on social media

In Russia too there are a series of peculiarities connected to the brand’s name. KFC entered Russian market in 1993 with the name Ростик’с. The name was used until 2005, when Yum!Brands and Ростик’с Групп made a strategic alliance; after that it became Ростик’с-KFC. The brand has been known as KFC only after 2010, when Yum!Brands bought the rest shares of Ростик’c Групп.

The first major digital campaign of KFC in Russia has been launched in 2011: 100,000 free sandwiches were promised to those who subscribed the official KFC brand community on Vkontakte, which got over 133,000 followers in less than in 2 weeks for that specific campaign.

In 2014 KFC was back in action, as they decided to shake the brand’s digital presence with a strategy to follow three main needs:

  • To increase brand awareness (as it used to have a different name before).
  • To increase product awareness (the popular KFC baskets were not well-known in Russia. Over 80% of respondents through target audience didn’t know what it is, fall 2013, source).
  • To increase sales.


In Russia most of young people do not watch television, and do not pay attention to traditional channels of advertising. That’s why KFC has chosen digital marketing as a way to reach its goals. And they succeeded, also with a direct influence of digital planning on sales, which is pretty remarkable.

The campaign was launched in winter 2014 by creative agency Hungry Boys (in collaboration with a huge community on Vkontakte). They created a video about a guy eating from a KFC basket during a University lecture and talking too loud; the professor eventually loses his patience and throws the chicken to the student, putting the KFC basket on the guy’s head. The video went viral, collecting over 600,000 views on Youtube in less than in a week.



Following the video, a huge wave of KFC memes has been created, supported by the most famous teenage humour community on VkontakteMDK counts over 4,740,000 followers, and its admins have been actively involved in the execution of the campaign.



The “Basket Head” became a trend not only as a meme, yet also as a user-generated photo trend. Users started taking photos of themselves and their friends wearing the KFC Basket on the head. Soon a special KFC App arrived, where everyone was able to “photoshop” the KFC basket in any photo.




Later on the campaign turned from an online activity into a series of offline stunts: fan-meetings and flash-mobs in KFC restaurants have been organised all across Russia. 

As a result the brand obtained:

  • Increased brand and product awareness.
  • Sales of KFC basket increased by 1,5 times only in 3 months (source).




China and Russia are two different markets, and two very different cultures. In these contexts a popular brand like KFC have been facing very different issues, based on different conditions and different consumers needs.

The strategy for the Chinese market is strictly oriented to offering discounts and making the product easily available – with a strong focus on mobile platforms such as WeChat and mobile apps – and also considering serious issues such as food quality (which is a very delicate matter in China). The brand’s approach to the Russian market is different, based on the concept that “sometimes you need just to have fun”.

In both cases, it’s interesting to see how specific digital channels have been chosen in order to fulfil different needs: while in China local social media are used to communicate product-related information, in Russia Vkontakte has been mainly used as a viral media.

Ekaterina Sivertseva & Gloria Gao

Ekaterina Sivertseva

Born in Moscow, she has degree in Management from NRU HSE (Moscow) and studied at Cattolica University in Milan. After an experience in a Digital Agency in Moscow, she joined Young Digitals as social media manager.


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