Shocker! Oprah's KFC giveaway may be too successful

As you've probably heard, Oprah Winfrey likes KFC's Kentucky Grilled Chicken.

As mentioned in a recent post, she promoted it on her show two days ago, directing people to a Web site to get a free coupon, a giveaway that ended Wednesday night at midnight (EST). And who could have predicted this? Ad Age is reporting that the Kentucky grilled chicken giveaway has had a "better-than-expected response."

Apparently, KFC's website was overwhelmed with downloads, and people, rushing to KFC, have already been turned away. Not that the coupons weren't good (they're good until May 19, excluding Mother's Day), but KFC eateries didn't have enough grilled chicken on hand.

All I can think is: What did KFC expect?Oprah Winfrey isn't just any ol' celebrity. She is Oprah Winfrey with better name recognition (I'm guessing) than Barack Obama, Britney Spears and God put together. Of course, any giveaway with her name attached is going to be successful. Why do you think so many authors, yours truly included, used to salivate at the idea of having their book mentioned on her show?

In any case, this isn't the first time a promotion has been a little too successful. I can think of several, almost off the top of my head:

  • Earlier this year, we had the Quiznos debacle. They promised to give away a million free subs without, apparently, clearing it with all of the individual restaurant owners. Many customers were refused the coupon.
  • In 2002, P&G offered a promotion where if you bought Pampers, you'd collect points for Fischer-Price toys. Parents bought the diapers, collected the points -- so many, in fact, that P&G ran out of toys. That said, customers eventually did get their toys -- or at least a check so they could buy their toys.
  • In 1996, Pepsi had a promotion that gave away a lot of free stuff if you drank a lot of Pepsi (for instance, drink 600 2-liter bottles and get a free leather jacket). So many people entered, and so many things --T-shirts, baseball caps, sunglasses and the like -- were given away that it cut into Pepsi's expected profits.
  • In 1993, Maytag Corp. offered free vacations for Europeans who would buy their Hoover vacuum cleaners. So many people took them up on the offer that the company lost $48 million.
My guess is that this KFC promotion will work out fine in the end. There's certainly time to get more chicken into KFC outlets. After all, as noted, people have until May 19 to take their coupons in.

But it seems like this shortage and confusion could have been easily predicted. Oprah has a pretty sizable following (think: Earth).

Any company, I don't care how big they are, that considers harnessing her power for a promotion should ponder over what they're about to get into. If they're smart -- and I mean this in a complimentary way -- they really should be a little chicken.

Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to WalletPop. He also is the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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