“American Idol” ranks among the biggest television – let alone Reality TV – phenomena in small screen history. It has launched many singing careers (both good and bad), spurred billions of Web clicks and even drew more viewers than last year’s State of the Union address. With its success, Idol has become a magnet for multi-million dollar corporate deals and big brand sponsorships.
While most “American Idol” contestants grace the pages of gossip magazines, comprise blogger chatter and find their way into water cooler conversations, no 2007 AI contestant was more talked about than Sanjaya Malakar.
Faced with the constant challenge of breaking through the pop culture news clutter to generate brand-elevating coverage, the KFC PR team created an Idol-focused initiative that not only delivered branded media coverage, but also promoted a key KFC menu item, the KFC Famous Bowl – all thanks to Malakar’s ever-changing hairdos
In a classic David vs. Goliath move, KFC generated more brand-building buzz via its AI guerilla PR offer than many of the mega-dollar initiatives created by exclusive American Idol sponsors.
The KFC Buzz PR team’s on-going mission is to leverage the news of the day to opportunistically put the KFC brand and its product offerings top-of-mind with consumers nationwide.
Leverage news around the reality TV phenomenon via a media-genic offer to American Idol’s most talked-about contestant.
Aggressively pitch a KFC star-studded offer to traditional and online media covering everything “Idol.”
Monitor pop culture news to build on the KFC offer to Sanjaya Malakar and generate continuous brand coverage.
The key audience for the KFC Buzz program is comprised of twenty-something’s that frequent fast food restaurants. These individuals read Us Weekly and People and visit celebrity blog sites like TMZ.com and PerezHilton.com.
RESEARCH / PLANNING
With their finger on the pulse of current events, the KFC Buzz PR team is always looking for the next news item they can leverage to generate brand-elevating coverage. With stories reaching beyond pop culture outlets to mainstream media, “American Idol” was the hottest show on TV and one contestant was the perfect candidate for a KFC celebrity offer.
The KFC Buzz PR team was challenged to come up with a program that would cut through the AI clutter and set them apart from Idol’s big dollar corporate sponsors.
Sanjaya Malakar’s crazy hairstyles owned the radio airwaves, anchor banter and water cooler chat during the show’s 2007 season. Week after week, Malakar appeared with a different style. From a curly-haired mop to the unforgettable Malakar Mohawk, there seemed to be no ‘do Malakar wouldn’t do.
Like the Idol hairstylists, the KFC team came up with an idea creative enough to keep people talking days after the show aired. To insert KFC into the Malakar media whirlwind, the KFC PR team made Sanjaya a simple – but out of the box – offer: don a “bowl haircut” during a “nationally televised singing performance” in honor of the KFC Famous Bowls and not only would Sanjaya score a lifetime supply of KFC Famous Bowls, the brand would make a donation to charity in Malakar’s name.
A week later to re-insert the brand in AI news, KFC upped the offer to include $5,000 and the opportunity for Malakar to score his first commercial recording contract via a starring role in an upcoming KFC ad.
To bring the “KFC bowl haircut” offer to life, KFC sent an open letter to Malakar that outlined the specifics. In order to capitalize on Idol’s weekly pre and post-show buzz, the KFC team strategically distributed the initial letter on the Monday morning before the show’s airing on Tuesday night.
After “American Idol” producers received the letter, the team “leaked” details of the proposal to national entertainment and mainstream print, broadcast and online outlets. The team hit the phones hard connecting with key media contacts nationwide.
To ensure a media-able visual, the KFC team digitally created an image of how a bowl haircut could look with the letters K-F-C shaved into the back.
The process was duplicated for the increased offer a week later. The team continued media outreach around the revised offer to build on the buzz generated from the first proposal and entice new media coverage.
EVALUATION OF SUCCESS
The media loved the creative offer to Sanjaya and the program garnered more than 41 million media impressions.
The offers provided a natural source for pop culture TV banter with mentions on ABC World News Now, Extra, Fox Morning Show with Mike and Juliet, Fox & Friends,
Online coverage included UsMagazine.com, TMZ.com (twice), E! Online, USAToday.com,
Print mentions ran on celebrity gossip pages in the New York Daily News, Atlanta Journal Constitution, San Francisco Chronicle and The Salt Lake Tribune. News of KFC’s offer to the Seattle-native Sanjaya even caused an international stir with coverage in