Why KFC Went Bone-Free

Marketing execs from KFC and its agency discuss the strategy behind the chain’s big move into boneless.

It seems as though the existence of chicken skeletons has become a bony issue for KFC. Famous for its bountiful buckets of fried chicken pieces, the fast-food company has launched a new product that reflects the times. What times are those? Times where we’re told that many young people today don’t know that chicken actually comes with bones. To meet these changing tastes, KFC’s new Original Recipe Boneless, which debuted on April 14, pairs the Colonel’s original blend of herbs and spices with chicken breasts, thighs, and legs, sans bones.


The new launch is supported by an ad campaign from DraftFCB that taps into the surprise that consumers experienced when they tasted KFC’s classic recipe in a new form. With the tagline “I Ate The Bones,” (which some observers say resembles a previous Canadian campaign for the brand) the campaign features KFC lovers in moments of shock and disbelief, thinking they’d mindlessly consumed the carcass.

Here, KFC marketers Shindy Hodack and David Ellis and DraftFCB chief creative Todd Tilford talk about the strategy and development process behind KFC’s Original Recipe Boneless.

The insight: “We were looking at our strategy, and if you look at the category itself, four out of five servings of chicken are boneless out there,” says KFC calendar director Shindy Hodack. “To capitalize on that opportunity, we took our signature product with our secret recipe and made it boneless. It was a way to rebuild our core, rebuild our base business into a more relevant form. It’s juicy, it tastes as great as bone-in chicken, and you’ve got dark meat and white meat, which is a big point of differentiation. And it’s convenient, so it’s easy to fit in people’s lifestyles today.”

The development: Hodack says the journey to Original Recipe Boneless started about three years ago. “We did some definitive research around it and saw the trend that there’s a need for authenticity when you’re looking for food. And people want the best of both worlds. Real food, real chicken goes a long way, but then they want it to be something they could eat in the car or walk away. The constant reference that led to the “I Ate The Bones” tagline was wanting to make sure we married the two worlds together–the best of both worlds.”

The Research: “We’ve done extensive research, focus groups, and most important, we’ve got validated, in-market test results from Lincoln, Omaha, and Oklahoma City. This test has been going on for six months now and has been consistently delivering good results,” says Hodack.

The Positioning: KFC VP, Marketing David Ellis says, “The brilliance about this idea is that it’s all of the things you love about KFC. It’s this merger of authenticity and contemporariness. You can have the flavor you love in the way you want to eat it. The “I Ate The Bones” tagline really came from the insight that there’s a love of our core product and there’s this genuine surprise when you can get it without the bones. There were a lot of ideas on the wall, but it’s one of those ideas that you know it when you’ve got it; it’s an idea that brings the insight to life.


The Campaign: DraftFCB CCO Todd Tilford said that the agency needed to do something that would remain sticky and cut through. “KFC said it would be great if we had a phrase. So the creative was born out of the idea that this is just like eating original recipe without the bones. We started thinking that you might actually think you were eating original recipe because it tastes so good. Then you might realize, ‘Oh my god, where are the bones?’ It became a nice catchphrase that caught on in the test markets. If the test markets are any indication, it’s going to get some good buzz. People were sending in their own videos of themselves acting like they ate the bones. We shot the spots with David O. Russell. He’s an amazing director and knows how to get great performances out of people, if you can catch him between movies.”

The Future: While some reports have suggested that KFC’s introduction of Original Recipe Boneless is a death knell for it’s core bone-in product, Hodack says not so. “At this point in time the consumers will decide. There’s a place in our world for both products. Right now, chicken on the bone is not going off the menu. I think this product is transformational for us because it gives us a sense of reinventing our core. It’s a critical step in our business, but it doesn’t stop there. It’s all about having that relevance and making it an everyday occasion. It’s something that’s going to be part of people’s everyday life.”

About the author

Rae Ann Fera is a writer with Co.Create whose specialty is covering the media, marketing, creative advertising, digital technology and design fields. She was formerly the editor of ad industry publication Boards and has written for Huffington Post and Marketing Magazine.