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KFC's What the Cluck?! advert banned after complaints

A KFC advert that said 'What the Cluck?!' next to '£1.99 fill up lunch' has been banned in the UK by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) due to complaints. The ad had previously appeared at bus stops and in The Sun and The Metro newspapers. One version of the ad also featured what ASA described as an "elongated 'cluuuuuck'." Which is a great turn of phrase if we've ever heard one.

The argument about whether or not the ads should be banned centres around whether the word 'cluck' is being substituted for a swear word (no prizes for guessing which one), and many who complained were concerned that the ads were in places where children would see them. It doesn't look like this ad will be making it into our best print ads (opens in new tab) ever roundup.

KFC What the cluck ad

The full (now banned) ad (Image credit: KFC/ASA)

KFC said they would respect the ruling, but also argued that 'What the cluck?!' would be the customer's response to such a great deal (Are you saying you *haven't* used that phrase?). They also argued that, "the word 'cluck' was used as an onomatopoeic reference to the noise of a chicken, which was in context and wholly relevant to the deal, the product featured and the brand." So clucking apparently only makes everyone think of chickens, and absolutely nothing else. And this is what this campaign is based on. Okay.

Interestingly, typography and layout has also made it into this debate (see our typography tutorials (opens in new tab) if you want to brush up on your skills). ASA's ruling states: "KFC said the ad did not use the word “fuck” and they did not believe there was any ambiguity in the typeface or arrangement of the wording in the ad which could have allowed for it to be interpreted as an expletive.

"They said they believed it was unlikely that children would make any connection between “cluck” and “fuck” given the clear typeface they used and would more likely connect it with the sound made by a chicken."

KFC apology

There was no backlash to this campaign (Image credit: KFC)

KFC also said that none of the ads had been within 200 metres of schools, and they'd deliberately been placed in newspapers with adult readerships, and not in the front 20% of the papers for this reason.

So, what the cluck? Well, it's an odd one. People are very easily offended, and perhaps KFC had pushed the 'clucking' a bit too far (sorry). But what's particularly interesting about this story is that there was no such response to KFC's FCK apology (opens in new tab) campaign when it ran out of chicken. In fact, it went on to win a D&AD Yellow Pencil. 

KFC has had a few other potential misfires though, there was that KFC bucket hat (opens in new tab), for example. We loved it, but we're not sure if it caught on.

But it looks like KFC will have to be a bit more careful in future. This is what the ASA describes as the 'Action' from its ruling: "The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Kentucky Fried Chicken (Great Britain) Ltd t/a KFC to avoid in future alluding to expletives that were so likely to offend."

So running another FCK apology would probably not be wise. Whatever your thoughts on this, if you've got a bit of time to spare, we recommend you check out ASA's ruling (opens in new tab), if only for the gloriously pedantic nature of the 'cluck' debate.

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Rosie Hilder is Creative Bloq's Deputy Editor. After beginning her career in journalism in Argentina – where her blogging prowess led her to become Deputy Editor of Time Out Buenos Aires – she moved back to the UK and joined Future Plc in 2016. Since then, she's worked as Operations Editor on art and design magazines, including Computer Arts, 3D World and Paint & Draw, and got the 'Apple bug' when working on US title, Mac|Life. In 2018, she left the world of print behind and moved to Creative Bloq, where she helps take care of the daily management of the site, including growing the site's reach through trying to please the Google Gods, getting involved in events, such as judging the Brand Impact Awards, and helping make sure its content serves its readers as best it can. Her interests lie in branding and illustration, tech and sexism, and plenty more in-between.