Under the Influence

KFC came out with 'finger lickin' good' nail polish

The world of business is all about growth. To stimulate growth, companies have to win new customers by taking a chance and thinking outside the box. Or the bucket.
The bearded face of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Colonel Sanders. (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)

The world of business is all about growth.

Growth builds companies and growth attracts investors. To stimulate that growth, companies have to win new customers by taking a chance and thinking outside the box. Or the bucket.

This week, we explore the surprising ideas companies use to attract new customers. Like “Finger Lickin’ Good” nail polish from KFC. Or NASCAR’s partnership with Harlequin romance novels. The search for new customers is endless. And the resulting marketing is endlessly fascinating. Hope you’ll join us. 0:57

Take KFC.

Their slogan, "It's finger lickin' good," has been around for over 70 years. Not many have that kind of staying power.

But as KFC expanded, the slogan wasn't as well established in other countries.

In Hong Kong specifically, where KFC has 60 stores, "finger lickin' good" wasn't instantly recognizable to young fast food buyers. And KFC wanted to attract a younger demographic.

It was a challenge. Ogilvy & Mather, KFC's advertising agency, didn't want to mimic rival McDonald's Happy Meal toys or just give away free T-shirts — they needed a bigger, attention-getting idea.

Recently, the creative director of the ad agency was sitting around the boardroom table with his team, brainstorming "finger lickin' good" ideas, when he noticed one of them was tapping the table with her beautifully manicured fingernails.

He stared at her nails and said, "Wouldn't it be great if those tasted like KFC?"

Typically, the famous flavour of KFC is exclusive to chicken. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

And in that moment, an unlikely marketing idea was born: Kentucky Fried Chicken-flavoured nail polish.

The polish came in two different flavours: original and hot & spicy. The polish came packaged in KFC's red and white corporate colours in half-ounce, square, designer bottles emblazoned with the slogan, "It's finger lickin' good."

The directions were simple: just apply and dry like regular nail polish, then lick.

The polish was completely edible, created with natural ingredients that make up KFC's secret recipe of 11 different herbs and spices.

For two weeks, KFC teased about the nail polish on social media. Then it held a big launch party in Hong Kong, attended by celebrities, foodies and fashion bloggers.

But the nail polish wasn't made available to the public — it was only sent out to social media influencers and given away at the launch party.

The finger lickin' good edible nail polish became a viral sensation. It was a No. 1 trending Twitter topic, it attracted over 200 million online views and landed lucrative free coverage from media including the New York Times and the BBC.

It was a finger lickin' success, accomplishing its two main goals: to revive the KFC slogan and to get young people talking about the brand.

For more stories about brands' relentless hunt for new customers, click or tap the "Listen" button above to hear the full Under the Influence episode. You can also find us on the CBC Radio app or subscribe to our podcast.

Under the Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio, a 1969 Airstream trailer that's been restored and transformed into a studio on wheels, so host Terry O'Reilly can record the show wherever he goes.

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The Terstream Mobile Recording Studio. (Image Credit: Sidney O'Reilly)