Is This KFC “Tastes Like Home” Commercial Offensive?

February 26, 2014  |  

It’s a question, which has been bothering me all week: Is this KFC fried chicken commercial racist?

You can check it out below or at WorldStarHipHop. In the one-minute commercial, a black woman is leading a small black girl through the streets of Bangkok, Thailand. She drops her off at the WATBEN International School, where she is the only black girl in a school full of native Thai-speaking children. She doesn’t understand the language, nor the food, and has a hard time explaining to her classmates her own native origins of South Africa (which she points to on a map). Clearly the girl is lonely and feeling like an outcast.

Taking pity on the little black girl, one of her little Asian classmates approaches her and begins to lick her fingers, which someone pointed out to me was the KFC motto of “finger lickin’ good.” I missed it on the first viewing, however in the commercial, the little black girl’s face perks up like she knew exactly what that meant. And in the very next scene she is sitting in the middle of her new Asian friends, smiling and happily chowing down on a basket of the Colonel’s 11 herbs and spices.

According to the description section of the YouTube channel, the advert, which is called “Tastes Like Home,” was created by Ogilvy & Mather Johannesburg and shot for post-apartheid South African viewers. It was the first time that KFC filmed an advert for their South African market abroad (in Thailand) and it had hoped to capitalize on the emotional turmoil of home-sickness and how the “simplest things connect us and make us feel at home-like mealtimes and the universally loved taste of KFC.”

However, some folks don’t see it that way. And in certain respects, I can understand. While chicken is consumed in Africa (and so is KFC, which has been making a mark as of late on the continent thanks to Bill Gates and the continent’s surging middle class), it is not usually thought of by locals in different countries as a part of the national and cultural identities. Had she taken her to get some mieliepap, then okay, that would make sense. However, fried chicken has been used historically to stereotype black people. And this South Korean-based fried chicken restaurant commercial with a Korean man being chased by some black cannibals with bones in their noses is evidence that the “black people love fried chicken” stereotype is universally understood. So it does beg the question: Is KFC using racial stereotypes of black people’s supposed close-attachment to the bird as a way to sell fried chicken?

It should also be noted that while KFC, which is part of Yum! Brands, is a multi-national corporation, it is based in Kentucky. So it is not like this is a matter of them not knowing the cultural implications of haphazardly tying black folks to fried chicken. Likewise, this is not the first time the chain has been accused of using black folks to sell chicken in very stereotypical ways. Back in 2010, the Colonel had to remove one of its Australian annex adverts from the airwaves (or just the Internet) after it was accused of racism for showing an uncomfortable-looking white man, sitting at a cricket match, handing out pieces of fried chicken to appease a rowdy bunch of black West Indian supporters.

As many people have mentioned in my own social media network, the ad might be insensitive, however, its offense barely registers on the outrage meter. IN fact, my little brother stated that he is much more offended by the ever-popular Popeye’s Aunt Annie commercials. I somewhat agree and I suspect that more Western black audiences, particularly in the United States, might find this more offensive than continental black folks. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention those times while traveling internationally when even I longed for the fine American cuisine of a burger, fries and strawberry milkshake.

However, I’m not quite ready to give KFC, or the advertising company, a full pass. Thanks to the power of the Internet, we get to see how many of these brands have been getting away with exporting stereotypes all around this world for many years now. As a brand, KFC should be very conscious of the images and messages it puts out publicly, especially in regards to certain ethnic and racial groups, regardless if that particular audience they are catering to, at that particular moment, might find it offensive or not.

So what do folks think? Is this commercial a harmless and somewhat heartwarming testimony to the power of KFC in curing homesickness and loneliness? Or is the Colonel totally playing up long-held racial stereotypes for economic gain?

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  • Rob Anthony

    I’ve come across this post late – but – in my books, being a mixed race ( Nigerian / French Canadian ), this one’s a fail and falls squarely in the “are you kidding me” column. KFC clearly spent a fortune on this ad with some brilliant cinematography but zero common sense in the Creative Director’s boardroom – but equally disturbing is that some child’s family OK’d their daughters participation. I work in the advertising industry as a Creative Marketing Director – and this ad piece gained no more traction using an African American lead than if they’d used any other culture.

    • Josephus Jones

      The lead is not “African American,” she is South African.
      This was an ad commissioned by a South African company for the South African branch of KFC, for a South African audience. Where the America-centric stereotypes surrounding fried chicken do not exist.

  • Scott Henry

    It’s offensive. Please the only thing she could use to communicate is friend chicken? Come on. Its racist fors ure. So next lets have a mexican who can only communicate with others by getting them to eat tacos…

  • Forrealz

    It might be offensive to Westerners/North Americans, but that’s only because you’re aware of the stereotype. So many people are not aware of it UNLESS learning about it from Western media.

    Majority of Asians are not familiar with the stereotype. For godssake, not even the KyoChon commercial proves that it is universal. You’d have a stronger case if the cannibals made for the chicken on sight, but no. They tasted it first, and in comes the message of ‘KyoChon chicken is that good!’ the brand is trying to push. Is it unfortunate? Yes. Is the KyoChon commercial racist? Yes, but not for the chicken. Is the KFC commercial racist? As it seems this stereotype does not exist in it’s intended audience’s country, then no, it’s not.

  • Christine

    I found it really interesting to read some of the comments below. I suppose your reaction to this commercial will certainly be based on your life experiences, regarding things related to racism. As a Congolese-Canadian, the “black culture” and experience in Canada is very closely influenced by and related to that of the U.S. So for me, I certainly felt offended by this commercial. I see what other black people from the U.S. see when observing the commercial. However, I was surprised to read that for some of the blacks in South Africa who commented below, this commercial was apparently not offensive… Hmmm.

    • Nadia

      Yes christine just saw your reply to my post and I about to ask you if you grew up outside Africa. . I grew up in Nigeria and now live in the US and before moving here I vaguely knew there was that stereotype from movies but never paid attention to it because I didnt understand the concept . How can liking fried chicken be wrong ? Now I Iive here I get it . So that is why I said because this was made outside the North America if you take out the North American cultural context it is actually not offensive at all .

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  • Nadia

    No this isn’t offensive at all. I am African you guys need to understand that there are race based stereotypes that are solely restricted to America . One of which is eating fried chicken. It was when I moved to America I realised fried chicken is associated with black people . If this was an American commercial it’s absolutely racist, outside America it is not. You have to look at the cultural context as well .

    • Christine

      Huh? I am Congolese, and I find this comercial offensive… It is denigrating to black people in general, whether they’re from the US or not.

  • Sydney Evans

    It’s a sugar coated offensive commercial. Why does the like asian girl assume that the black girl likes chicken. She could have taken her anywhere else but no. It was a damn chicken restaurant. Stop putting black people with chicken. The little girl could had been any other race but they chose a black one

  • Mzansi Insider

    As a South African black woman living in South Africa, I can tell you that this advert is not racist. KFC is a staple in most black households in South Africa. People love KFC, not just any other fried chicken brand, but specifically KFC. So, it’s about the brand, not necessarily the chicken to us.

  • Ngeri Nnachi-Azuewah

    Lol, I suppose it all depends on perspective. I see it both ways. I didn’t know that KFC is a staple in South Africa, if it isn’t…this could be deemed offensive…if not…I suppose it could be rather harmless.

  • Guest

    Not offended at all. Food is universal. It could have been any restaurant that’s international. Love the commercial.

  • Paula Davis

    Personally, I’ve lived long enough to say that I don’t give a damn if the world thinks all dark brown people eat fried chicken.

  • empress123

    Yes it is offensive because MOST BLACK PEOPLE IN THE WORLD DO NOT EAT FRIED CHICKEN! Also I have to point out to my african american friends AGAIN that we are not the only black people in the world and we do not own the Black title. This is an ignorant stereotype we need to stop embracing.

  • Zaza

    Kinda cute really!

  • Trisha_B

    I don’t think it’s offensive. Fried chicken is a universal food, especially KFC that is in like every country. They probably have a lil, if any African restaurants in Thailand so the Thai girl knew KFC would give the girl a sort of comfort knowing this is something she was familiar with. Plus I’ve only heard the stereotype of fried chicken & black people applies to black Americans, not Africans or other people from other countries.

    Anywho, I heard KFC is bomb in other countries b/c of their culture twist to it lol. B/c I hate KFC

  • Chelsea M

    Most black families have fried chicken in their house at some point in life. I no longer eat fried foods nor do I eat at KFC but the thing that is most offensive is that KFC chicken is being compared to my mamas chicken!