LONDON — When KFC found itself in an extra-crispy predicament this week after it was unable to provide the one thing customers expect from the restaurant chain — chicken — it had two choices: Laugh or cry.
Apparently, it has chosen the former.
A mischievously contrite ad in Britain on Friday featured an empty chicken bucket with the image of Colonel Sanders. Below his smiling face, the letters that make up the company’s name were displayed in their typical typography, but they had been transposed to suggest a four-letter word that is associated with profanity, not poultry.
If a vowel was missing, the meaning was clear, expressing a sentiment held by both the restaurant and its customers, as problems with a new supply chain forced the closure of nearly two-thirds of KFC’s British branches this week.
Britain’s culinary reputation might have been built on a foundation of fish and chips and cucumber sandwiches, but the country has developed an extraordinary fondness for poultry slathered in batter and fried in oil.
So the closure caused no small amount of grief and rage in a country where fried chicken — whether at KFC or at one of its many imitators, like Chicken Cottage, Tennessee Fried Chicken and Dixie Chicken — is never far away.
Police were forced to tell people that chicken shortages at KFC were not really a law-enforcement matter. At least one lawmaker said he had been contacted by angry (or perhaps just hungry) constituents. And a video of a peeved customer complaining that “I’ve had to go to Burger King” was widely viewed.
The KFC ad was headlined “We’re sorry,” while acknowledging the chain’s bizarre plight. “A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal,” the advertisement read. “It’s been a hell of a week.”
But if its supply chain is a mess, the chain’s wordplay game is strong. In a statement, KFC said the ad was a “tongue-in-cheek rearrangement of our brand name intended to indicate our first thought when we realized the impact of our closed restaurants on customers in the U.K.”
The ad was in keeping with the public-relations approach that had been employed ever since the scale of the supply-chain snafu made itself apparent. It made light of the situation earlier by posting a riddle known to every schoolchild — “Why did the chicken cross the road?” — and answering in a way that reflected its nearly existential crisis.
“The chicken crossed the road,” it said. “Just not to our restaurants.”
The company’s officials have attributed the chaos to problems after KFC switched its delivery contract to DHL, leading to a logistical failure in Britain, which is the fifth-biggest market for KFC.
Distributing fresh chicken to restaurants across Britain, the company said, “is pretty complex.”
Risky ad strategies aside, things have been getting back to normal. As of Friday, about 800 of the 900 KFC restaurants in Britain and Ireland were open, although the disruptions — including stores closing, operating with shorter hours or offering a reduced menu — would continue through the weekend. A list of open KFC restaurants was being updated on its website every 15 minutes.
As for the aggrieved customer who was forced to resort to a burger chain, KFC is working on that, too.