Americans Call Australian KFC Ad Racist. Who Cares?

The ad above, featuring a white cricketer appeasing a Carribbean crowd with fried chicken
, is promoting a cricket match between Australia and the West Indies. It would be a major no-no in the United States. Here, the ad plays into an old stereotype about African-Americans and fried chicken. But if the ad was never intended for an US audience, does that uniquely American context still count? The Guardian has more:

Although intended only for an Antipodean audience, the clip has quickly found its way around the world on the internet, prompting stinging criticism in the US where fried chicken remains closely associated with age-old racist stereotypes about black people in the once segregated south.

KFC Australia has come out fighting, saying that the commercial was a “light-hearted reference to the West Indian cricket team” that had been “misinterpreted by a segment of people in the US.”

The company said: “The ad was reproduced online in the US without KFC’s permission, where we are told a culturally-based stereotype exists, leading to the incorrect assertion of racism.

In the Australian media, the reaction has been mixed, with some commentators accusing Americans of “insularity”. Brendon O’Connor, an associate professor at the University of Sydney, told 9 Network News that the association between fried chicken and ethnic minorities was a distinctly US issue: “They have a tendency to think that their history is more important than that of other countries.”

Does an American company have a responsibility to avoid producing content that would be racially sensitive in America in other countries? I don’t think so. There are no global regulations or even de facto laws against delivering ads that one country (but not another) finds racist, so KFC can choose to advertise whatever it wants outside of its home country. If West Indians and Australians find the ad offensive, then the company needs to do something about it. If Chinese, Brazilians, Armenians, or Americans find the ad offensive, that doesn’t obligate KFC to do anything about it.

The ad isn’t targeted at Americans. It operates in a completely different cultural context. What we find offensive might not be offensive to West Indians and Australians at all. So why implicate an American-based multinational for tweaking its campaigns to the countries in which it operates? It’s part of doing business in those countries.

The fact that Americans got their hands on this ad in the first place has to do with the speed and efficiency of Internet technology, with which international policy has not caught up. If Americans truly feel that this ad violates international cultural mores, they need to put energy into formulating an international law, not criticizing one company for operating outside of a familiar context.

UPDATE: KFC has removed the ad. Here’s their statement: “KFC Australia is removing the television advertisement that was being run in conjunction with the Australian cricket season. We apologize for any misinterpretation of the ad as it was not meant to offend anyone.”

Written by Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.