07 May, 2009

Humanity reaches its peak

So here's the thing.

This may be the greatest news story ever.

You see, KFC have introduced a new product over in the States. Believe it or not, it's Kentucky Grilled Chicken, "marinated and grilled to perfection for that five-star, fall-off-the-bone taste." And looking at the photos, it really looks awful. I'm pretty much the prime market for KFC, I go there way too often (although at least I hate myself for it afterwards), so if I'm looking at the advertising photo that is supposed to make the product look its best and most appealing, and I'm thinking "that looks awful", then it must look pretty bloody revolting.

Anyway, to promote the release of the new chicken, they've put coupons for free grilled chicken up on a website. All you need to do is download the coupon off the internet, print it off, and then take it in to KFC. In return, you get two pieces of non-original-recipe grilled chicken, two sides, and a "biscuit" (which is what the Americans call a kind of scone/bread roll). The coupon was only available to download for two days, but it could be used for two weeks, although for some reason they excluded Mothers' Day from the offer. Which was wise, because otherwise they would be inundated with mothers looking to spend Mothers' Day getting ghastly-looking chicken with a free downloaded coupon.

So what happens? Well, firstly, everyone in America apparently tried to download the coupon. As you might expect that they would. Which means servers crash, and people have real difficulty downloading the coupons. In one of the more intriguing comments on the website, someone wrote "I WAS JUST NOW ABLE TO PRINT THE KFC COUPON! IT TOOK OVER 3 HRS."

Now, let's put a bit of context on that comment. Simon and Garfunkel are coming to New Zealand next month, so a few weeks ago, I tried to buy tickets on the internet as soon they went on sale. I spent an hour trying unsuccessfully to get tickets before giving up. We're talking about tickets to what will probably be my only chance to see an important iconic music duo that I really enjoy, and I gave up after one hour. This woman spent three hours just to get $10 of revolting-looking KFC chicken. Isn't that a bit crazy?

But at least that's just people being inconvenienced while sitting at their computer. It's all in the privacy of their own home. I mean, as long as the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people who actually succeeded in downloading the coupons don't then have to all converge on a limited number of places to claim their free chicken, then no-one else should be inconvenienced, should they?

So what does happen when hundreds of people turns up to a KFC store demanding free chicken? Well, in one New York store (that I'll randomly select because this was the store where everything happened that prompted me to hear about the story in the first place), the manager understandably decided "Enough. We are not accepting any more coupons today." But if you offer people free chicken, be prepared to give away lots of free chicken. Otherwise, irate customers may feel ripped off, and decide to start an impromptu sit-in, refusing to leave until they get the free chicken that they were entitled to. Let me say that again: these people had nothing better to do with themselves than sit in a KFC store all afternoon. Their afternoon was valued at $10 worth of horrible chicken.

But clearly this reaction wasn't enough. So the hundreds of people crammed into the store took the next logical step to express their disappointment. They rioted. One report has "racial epithets ... being spewed" and the manager running from a "screaming horde". Now, don't forget, this is over chicken. And not even good chicken, but KFC Grilled Chicken. I keep looking at this story, trying to find the point where this behaviour makes sense, but I can't find it. Who are these people, and why are they acting like this?

But there's one detail that I haven't mentioned yet, one detail that stops this story from being merely an amusing story about a misguided promotion and a weird chicken-loving populace, one detail that lifts it to the level of "the greatest news story ever". What website was it that the coupon was posted on? What website partnered with KFC to make this offer available, and thus inflict all that trouble on the world?


Yes, people were angry and frustrated and irate, people felt cheated and ripped off, threats were made, impromptu protests occurred, riots broke out. And the woman that caused it all to happen in the first place, the woman whose actions led directly to this pain and suffering and misery, was Oprah Winfrey. I have to say it again. Oprah caused a riot to break out in a New York KFC restaurant. And I think that's pretty damned funny.

Memo to Oprah: For future reference, screaming hordes are good when the people have been given free cars. But that doesn't mean screaming hordes are good in every circumstance. You may want to be more judicious in future with your giveaways. Just a suggestion.

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