How a Clever Advocacy Strategy Notched a Finger-Lickin’ Win

With the help of a coalition of nonprofit partners and a hilarious marketing campaign, the Natural Resources Defense Council convinced KFC to curb its use of antibiotics in chickens—a major win for nutrition groups.

As a recent campaign targeting the fast-food chain KFC recently proved, pressure can be an effective way to get a company to act.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and a number of other groups just notched a sizable victory on the issue of antibiotics in chicken, which the groups say has contributed to the increase in drug-resistant infections in humans. KFC will stop using antibiotics important to human medicine in its products starting in 2018.

“We recognize that it’s a growing public health concern,” KFC U.S. President Kevin Hochman said in comments to Reuters last week. “This is something that’s important to many of our customers, and it’s something we need to do to show relevance and modernity within our brand.”

It’s possible that KFC wouldn’t have come to this decision without the help of the campaign, however. Last year, the advocacy groups launched an online campaign complete with its own mascot: Auntie Biotic, a fun-looking bird whose distinguishing feature is that she’s covered in different types of pills.

The mascot, beyond being a great visual image, gave a face and clear message to a campaign that targeted a late mover on an issue that other major chains, like McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A, had already acted on. (Chick-fil-A will shortly take the additional step of stopping its use of antibiotics in all cases—whether or not there is a benefit for humans.)

When the campaign began nearly a year ago, NRDC noted that KFC was lagging behind even its corporate sibling, Taco Bell, whose foods are often sold in the same facilities.

“As the nation’s largest fast-food chicken chain, KFC has an opportunity and responsibility to help stem the growing epidemic of drug-resistant infections by cleaning up its antibiotics policies,” noted NRDC Food Policy Advocate Lena Brook.

The mascot was both hilarious and informative, which helped the campaign drive a petition with more than 350,000 signatures to the company last year. And teamed with advocacy efforts by NRDC and nonprofit partners like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumers International, Food Animal Concerns Trust, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the campaign had its desired result.

“KFC’s new policy will be a game-changer for the fast-food industry and public health,” Brook said in a statement last week. “While federal antibiotics policy stagnates, the market is responding to consumer demand for better meat.”

She added that the move “will have a major impact on the way the birds are raised in the U.S.”

As a result of efforts by NRDC and others, 11 of the 15 largest fast-food chains have agreed to limit their use of antibiotics.

Auntie Biotic, NRDC's chicken mascot. (via Twitter)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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