The Pulse

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: KFC’s cheesy promotion was mighty hard to swallow

By: - December 10, 2022 6:00 am

Every so often we in the writing biz are reminded the time may come when we will be replaced by a “bot” that has been programmed to efficiently deliver timely, perfectly punctuated stories to editors.

We’re always being told Artificial Intelligence (AI) is getting smarter all the time. AI bots are already writing novels, we’re told. Clunky and derivative and unpublishable novels, maybe, but completed. I’ve had the same eight dusty chapters stuffed in a tattered file folder in my desk drawer for the past nine years. So, there’s that.

Bots are smarter than we are. What could go wrong?

A lot if you’re Yum Brands, the parent company of KFC and you use a bot to keep track of national holidays so the bot can craft a pithy message to tie the brand to the “celebration.”

So far, so good right. It’s marketing, baby.

But, just spitballin’ here, if the day is Kristallnacht, a solemn remembrance of the beginning of the Holocaust, you might not want to merrily invite German customers to celebrate “memorial day for Kristallnacht! Treat yourself with more tender cheese on your crispy chicken now at KFCheese!”

Turns out, Kristallnacht, also known as the night of the broken glass, refers to the pogroms against Jewish people in Germany and Austria carried out by Nazis in November 1938.

Now who wants biggie fries with that?

Ah, yes. Someone forgot to tell the bot not every holiday is a cause for a carb-loaded celebration.What’s next? Mattress sales to “celebrate” Americans killed in war? Oh, wait.

That would be like someone using Martin Luther King’s image and speech to sell Dodge Ram trucks in a Super Bowl ad. Oh, wait again. That really happened back in 2018. Four years later, it still inspires a full-body cringe.

To Yum Brands’ credit, an apology was swift and sincere and, we fervently hope, written by a human. I’m afraid if the bot was doing the apology, it would only make matters worse. (“We are sorry for implying melted cheese can make up for the sustained atrocities against Jewish people in Germany and Austria. We are AI bots with no understanding of fear or grief or similar “emotions.” Free Pepsi with Taco Bell Cravings Box this week only. Use passcode CLUELESS. Happy Birthday America!”)

Yum Brands admitted the notification was “insensitive and unacceptable” and immediately shut down mobile app notifications to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Great. I guess there goes any chance of getting the “Jesus is Dead and I’m Not Feeling So Good Myself Maundy Thursday chicken bowl with corn, gravy and three cheeses. Because, well, trinity.

Even as Yum Brands is getting roasted for the mistake, at least they have a reason for the misstep. AI still has a long way to go, obviously. (And now I somehow feel a lot better about those dusty chapters loitering in my desk drawer). But what’s our excuse? When are we humans going to do better?

Veterans often get irritated–and they absolutely should, I think–when the one day of the year that is set aside to honor their service is routinely hijacked to sell cars at low, low prices. What does a great deal on a new Nissan have to do with war? Absolutely nuthin, say it again, y’all.

It’s heartening that more companies are at least offering freebies to vets only. For example, Starbucks gave away tall iced lattes to veterans this year. I’m not sure but I believe that has a retail value of roughly $78.16, excluding tax and tip.

The point is while we may have gleefully scrambled up on our high horses at the jaw-dropping goof committed by KFC, we might want to consider our very own human-greed inspired “celebration” culture.

And that’s no joke.

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].

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