Home > NewsRelease > KFC’s Apology For Sending Promotional Message To Germans Provides 7 Crisis Management Lessons
KFC’s Apology For Sending Promotional Message To Germans Provides 7 Crisis Management Lessons
Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert
Washington, DC
Wednesday, November 23, 2022


Commentary from crisis management expert Edward Segal, the bestselling author of the award-winning Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey, 2020)

KFC's apology for a message it sent to German consumers provides business leaders with timely lessons about best practices for preventing, managing and communicating about a crisis.

The fried chicken company sent a promotional message to customers in Germany earlier this month, noting that "It's memorial day for Kristallnacht! Treat yourself with more tender cheese on your crispy chicken. Now at KFCheese!"

Kristallnacht is widely seen as the begining of the Holocaust, the BBC explained.

KFC said that it "sincerely" apologized for the "unplanned, insensitive and unacceptable message" the BBC reported.

"Reaction to KFC's 'mistake," came swiftly, according to news reports.

Daniel Sugarman, director of public affairs for the Board of Deputies of British Jews, tweeted that the promotion was "absolutely hideous." Arsen Ostrovsky, head of the pro-Israel legal group International Legal Forum, said he was "utterly speechless and repulsed."

About Kristallnacht

"The Nazi-led series of attacks in the country in 1938 left more than 90 people dead and destroyed Jewish-owned businesses and places of worship," according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's website.

"The Nazis came to call the event Kristallnacht ("Crystal Night," or "The Night of Broken Glass"), referring to the thousands of shattered windows that littered the streets [afterward], but the euphemism does not convey the full brutality of the event," the museum noted.

Crisis Management Best Practices

How and when KFC responded to the distribution of its promotional message provides several lessons for business leaders.

Act Quickly

About an hour after sending the first message, the comapny sent an apology, which balmed the mistakenly sent communication on "a fault in our system," according to The Guardian.

The company said that theur app communications had been suspended while an examination of the communications takes place, the BBC reported

Explain What Happened

"On November 9, an automated push notification was accidently issued to KFC app users in Germany…" a KFC spokesperson said in a statement that was picked up by several news organzations.

"We use a semi-automated content creation process linked to calendars that include national observances. In this instance, our internal review process was not properly followed, resulting in a non-approved notification being shared," the spokesperson exaplained.

Ensure The Crisis Is Not Repeated

"We are very sorry," KFC said, noting that, "we will check our internal processes immediately so that this does not happen again. Please excuse this error," The Guardian reported.

"We have suspended app communications while we examine our current process to ensure such an issue does not occur again," according to the company's statement.

Be Sincere

"We understand and respect the gravity and history of this day and remain committed to equity, inclusion and belonging for all," KFC said.

"There is much to be said about the value of a sincere, heartfelt apology, but KFC's response was not an example [of] that," Irina Tsukerman, president of Scarab Rising, a crisis communication company, said via email.

'On the contrary, it was a self-evident effort to avoid accountability by blaming the tone deaf and borderline offensive messaging on an unspecified "error in their system", which nevertheless clearly required human input due to the specificity of the occasion," she observed.

"It is unlikely that KFC globally will suffer serious consequences, such as boycotts, over such an incident. But even if the problematic communication is unintentional, it leaves (excuse the pun) a bad taste in one's mouth and points to a lackadaisical approach to communications in [general], which reflects poorly on the corporate culture overall."


Care About Your Communications And Audience

"What the business management in KFC and elsewhere should carry away from this incident is the best way to avoid even accidentally offensive messaging is to care about communications overall and about your audience," Tsukerman counseled.

"When you think deeply about what your target market cares about, you will be inspired to put out well thought out and clear messages that connect and work without having to worry about putting your foot in your mouth by jumping opportunistically at any occasion to push your product or service.

"At the end of the day, genuine mistakes can be forgiven, but opportunist callousness will sooner or later become a pattern and damage one's business reputation," she concluded.

Use Social Media

"The company should have also come out with a video from someone high on the executive chain issuing an apology on all social media platforms. Get out in front of the problem but take it head on," Greg Linnelli, a publicist with Otter Public Relations, said via email.

Don't Pass The Buck

"Point the finger internally and say actions have been taken never to let this happen again. Don't blame it on a "system error." Mistakes happen. Own it. Be compassionate and remorseful in the apology and most people will forgive," Linnelli advised.

"This was an unforgivable sin by Kentucky Fried Chicken in Germany. Blaming a "semi-automated content creation process linked to calendars" incorrectly absolves management," Robert Wynne, owner of Wynne Communications and Wynne Events, said via email.

"Knowing the history of Germany and the horrors of the Holocaust, everyone at KFC should have known not all historical remembrances would be suitable to promote sales of fried chicken.

"The other tragedy is with the rise of antisemitism in Europe and around the world, this flawed promotion could inadvertently increase sales. Senior management needs to do more than apologize; they need to resign," he recommended.

Don't Misuse History

Diane Saltzman, director of Survivor Affairs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said in a statement to the Washington Post "Today, recent incidents misusing Holocaust history have been increasing in frequency and intensity

"Holocaust survivors, and everyone—especially in Germany—concerned about historical truth, should never have to see such a blatant attempt to minimize and capitalize on their pain. We hope people remember, learn from and study this history, and refrain from its misuse."


Edward Segal is a crisis management expert, consultant and the bestselling author of the award-winning Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey). Order the book at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0827JK83Q/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

Segal is a Leadership Strategy Senior Contributor for Forbes.com where he covers crisis-related news, topics and issues. Read his recent articles at https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsegal/?sh=3c1da3e568c5.

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Edward Segal
Title: Crisis Management Expert
Group: Edward Segal
Dateline: Washington, DC United States
Direct Phone: 415-218-8600
Cell Phone: 415-218-8600
Jump To Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert Jump To Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert
Contact Click to Contact