Saturday, May 9, 2009

Yet more silliness -- with chicken!

This one has been all over the news (here's a bit from Reuters, for example). I didn't participate directly, but I know people who tried.

It seems that KFC and Oprah Winfrey teamed up to promote an offer of free grilled chicken (maybe it should now be "KGC"?). All you had to do was download a coupon, print it out and take it to your local KFC. Except for the small matter of scale, it's a classic loss-leader to get people into the stores and get them to try a new product, one arguably healthier than the usual eleven-secret-herbs-and-spices formulation. I'm guessing the healthy part was Oprah's angle on it.

The results were not particularly hard to predict. My favorite tidbit was KFC spokesperson Laurie Schalow explaining that "there was no riot" and that "some KFC stores may have run out of some products, such as mashed potatoes and gravy or cole slaw, 'but they are substituting as best they can.'" I can only wonder what you get when you ask your tablemate to please pass the mashed potato substitute, but I give the lady full credit for even showing up to work that day.

Meanwhile, on the "how to use the internet to get $3 worth of free chicken" end of things, my correspondents' simple quest to print out a few coupons before heading out for lunch turned into a full-on mini geekfest involving much hilarity as the online offer evolved from a simple "Here's a PDF, print it out" to a twitching beast clearly thrown together in a hurried attempt to slow the tide.

I don't know the exact details, so don't quote me on any of this, but it seems that somewhere along the line KFC tried to put a unique serial number on the coupons. That can work reasonably well if the infrastructure is there (see the very first post on this blog for an example), but not so well if in all the confusion the individual stores are not clear on whether to enforce the one-serial-number-per-customer restriction and zillions of people have already printed out or otherwise copied the original non-unique coupon.

This doesn't seem to have stopped the webmasters from trying to control the printing of coupons to keep people from churning them out by the dozen for themselves. This trick never really works and it seems particularly pointless given that the offer was for a limited time, the stores were already giving away chicken as fast as they could, the whole point of the exercise was to get people in the store, not to make it hard for them, and that making the web site annoying risked costing well more in bad PR than just giving away chicken would cost in chicken, but again, I give the crew full credit just for showing up to work on this one.

At some point I recall hearing that the site was trying to get you to install a .exe on your Windows box and if you were running in a virtual machine (not a bad idea if you're installing some random .exe), refusing to print. There was also something about being asked to upgrade to a Mac, but I may have this garbled.

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