Filling In The Potholes

April 9, 2009

Us Minnesotans often say we have two seasons: winter and construction. Winter seems to range from five to seven months (five if we’re uber lucky). The other half of the year is spent repairing the havoc that winter wreaked upon our roads. One company is turning what is otherwise a nuisance into a cause-marketing campaign. KFC announced its effort to “re-fresh” city streets as a tie-in to its new “fresh” campaign. KFC is paying to repair potholes in select local markets and branding the potholes with a chalk stencil that states “Re-Freshed by KFC”. The chalk will eventually wash away, but the pothole will remain filled. The campaign kicked off in Louisville at the end of March with both Colonel Sanders and the Mayor taking part.

The chain isn’t necessarily counting on selling more chicken in the immediate future. Rather, it is part of a larger cause-marketing plan in which they hope to build long-term loyalty and affinity for the brand. There are quite a fetop5-kfc-potholes040609big1w opinions out there about what this actually will do for KFC. On the one hand, as federal, state and city budgets are cut, we must rely on other – and perhaps more creative – channels to get the work done that needs to be done to keep our communities running smoothly. KFC is providing a public service to cities as drivers no longer have to swerve around potholes as if they were playing a game of Frogger. On the other hand, the “fresh” campaign is meant to focus on food quality. Filling potholes isn’t exactly what comes to mind when I think of “fresh”. In fact, when I think of potholes, it actually makes me think of clogged arteries. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think that’s what they’re going for. Or, does this open our communities up to the NASCAR model of stickering up everything that has space?

I believe strongly in the power of and need for companies to play a bigger role in our communities when it comes to social responsibility. The challenge is to pick something that is relevant to the business. That can either mean a cause that employees can rally around, or at least a cause that customers can understand or perhaps even participate in. Are potholes really the most important thing that needs fixing in our communities? Probably not. But did KFC’s campaign get people talking, and for some in Louisville, make the drive home just a little less bumpy? For sure. Will it build loyalty and affinity? It’s too soon to tell.

KFC has extended an open offer to mayors in other U.S. cities and will select up to four more cities for pothole assistance. I think I’ll drop Mayor R.T. Rybak a line, as there are some fierce potholes in my ‘hood that could use some filling in. If they get filled in, maybe I’ll celebrate with my bucket of KFC — extra crispy, please.