This is the story behind an idea by Ogilvy Sydney that went way, way left-of-centre – and became wildly, wildly successful – the KFC Australia wedding service.
On a one to ten scale for bravery, proposing a campaign in which KFC creates a wedding service and advertises it in Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue is an unequivocal ten. That campaign launched a couple of weeks ago.
1,200 couples have applied so far to have a KFC wedding. The campaign has had 1,240 pieces of coverage with a reach of almost 480 million.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a print ad without a headline that has generated that kind of interest,” stated Luke Hawkins, the Ogilvy Sydney creative director on the campaign.
To get there, Ogilvy Sydney used a lot more than bravery – and searingly brilliant left-of-centre creativity. Ogilvy proposed the basic idea two years ago. The agency used determination and resilience to make it happen.
“You want us to do what?”
“KFC was interested in it, but it jumped a little too far left field,” Ogilvy Sydney executive creative director, Gavin McLeod, recalled of the first presentation – probably euphemistically.
A year later, KFC launched its food truck. This, McLeod, noted gave Ogilvy an opportunity to re-present the idea. “We thought there was a great opportunity to use the mobile service for catering weddings. This time, KFC showed more interest because, obviously, it was more viable for them. But they still didn’t think they could play credibly in that space.”
But KFC was intrigued nonetheless and began to do some research around the idea. What the world’s most famous fried chicken chain found was surprising – and comical. Not only was KFC a place where young people went to meet young people, it was also a wedding ceremony pit stop between the official photo shoot and reception. “We see brides come in here all the time,” KFC management was told by its staff.
“It’s always better to build on something that’s already existing rather than create something new and KFC already had an intrinsic role in people’s weddings,” McLeod stated. “They finally had the confidence to buy an idea that really is crazy on the surface.”
So Ogilvy began to develop its wild idea. “We wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just a promotion. It needed to be much more than that. It had to be a legitimate wedding service rather than a one-off. So we worked on that with the client.
“You want us to do it where?”
We only had a modest budget and we felt that such an unexpected idea needed an equally unexpected execution. We thought that the most unexpected places KFC could possibly be seen in were the glossy high-end fashion publications. That became the heart of the campaign.”
Ogilvy could see that it now had a newsworthy idea in development. “All of those fashionistas and brides-to-be would be flicking through the pages and seeing all these glamorous shots and suddenly this beautiful bride appears tucking into a KFC drumstick,” McLeod noted.
Sibling, opr, built the story that got people talking. Ogilvy’s mad idea began to spread. Behind the scenes, Ogilvy had achieved even more than the news and trade press stories highlighted. KFC very rarely runs print ads in Australia, so it was a brave move on its part. The chain never shows a single item. And it never advertises a product with a bite out of it. Ogilvy’s mad idea had convinced KFC to break a lot of its own rules.
“OK, we trust you. Don’t muck it up.”
“A great level of trust from the client after so many years of working together was beneficial,” McLeod conceded.
New Zealand photographer, Matt Baker, was asked to shoot what was to look like a high-end fashion editorial image on first viewing. “It made me laugh. It was pretty unexpected,” he stated. “I do shoot a lot of comedic advertising though. That’s what I specialise in. I’ve shot some pretty wacky stuff over the years.” He has also shot a lot of fashion earlier in his career.
Hundreds of shots were taken and several themes were explored:
Weddings Select 1
We liked that it felt like a moment of introspection. Weddings are frenetic occasions and we wanted to see if we could position the KFC moment as a respite from the madness. Ultimately we felt that it made the mood feel a bit sombre and the drumstick felt like a superfluous prop.
“I loved that this was as unexpected as possible, where you look at a photograph and don’t see the punch line immediately,” Baker added. “That’s the kind of advertising I really enjoy. It ticked all the boxes for me. The play on composition, the juxtaposition between the chicken and the really overtly couture wedding gown, this is the genius of Ogilvy and especially the creative director, Luke. And it’s fantastic for KFC to take a punt on something like this as well.”
Baker understood that creating an ad-style “perfect” image would have diluted the idea. “You’d be able to see immediately that it was an ad. I wanted it to blend into the editorial so it didn’t give itself away immediately. I wanted to encapsulate all of the nuance of a fashion image – from the lighting, the body position, facial expressions, elegance – push that as much as we could.”
Weddings Select 2
We were exploring to see if we could make it a little more “sexy” and have a bit of smouldering allure. Tonally this didn’t feel right for what we were trying to achieve. There’s a cheekiness to KFC Weddings that was getting totally lost.
“We felt that the ad needed to feel as real as possible,” McLeod added. “The talent actually told us on the day that she loves KFC so she was happy to tuck into it for the shoot. It felt really natural and gave it real charm, gave us a natural shot with her looking over her shoulder.”
Weddings Select 3
We thought it might be fun to parody the classic fashion shot. We wanted a bit of the haughtiness that’s so pervasive in high fashion. Once again, it felt like we were losing the humanity that was critical for the idea to come to life. We realised that parodying fashion wasn’t enough. We needed to capture the spirit of the moment in a way that felt true to KFC’s concept of “free-spirited”.
Making the shot natural, Hawkins added, led to some serious conversations about retouching and grading. “We had done what fashion does and created the perfect person, but we decided to intentionally pull it back. We didn’t shy away from the imperfections in her skin, for example.”
Weddings Final Select 4
We loved this shot. There was an intimacy to the moment where it felt like we’d captured a genuine emotion. There’s a real sense of the bride’s playful personality and the food is the hero. We loved that it felt that she’s just sneaked a bit of the irresistible KFC and was feeling quite chuffed with herself for having got away with it. It also broke all the rules of KFC food photography as we generally never depict food in print on its own or with bites out of it. But, in this case it worked. It really nailed the “free spirit” that is so important to KFC.
“Phew…and then, wow!!”
By this time, KFC head office had got wind of the idea. And loved it. Even began sharing it. Back home in Australia, KFC was fielding hundreds of conversations, “This is just what I needed to get my partner to marry me”, “Can I marry myself?” and “I wish I’d never eloped,” among them. People who were already married were asking if they could have a KFC renew our vows ceremony.
The first wedding will be held in December. KFC has promised its fans that it will hold six KFC weddings, chosen from the entries it has received. The first one will be filmed. “An opportunity for more PR,” McLeod noted. “Our partners at Geometry will be helping to bring that to life in true KFC fashion. There have been some amazing entries so choosing the six, even choosing the shortlist is going to be quite a challenge.”
I’m certainly looking forward to going to that first one,” McLeod concluded.