How To Get Into University (According To KFC)
This is an example of Internet-based mass mobilization in which a BBS forum post drew enough support that mainstream media had to take notice.
The following account was published in the newspaper Information Times via Phoenix TV).
The controversy revolves around a 45-second television commercial for KFC in China (see link). Here is the plot line:
There are three characters who are in the third year of high school, two males and one female. The commercial shows snapshots of their lives while they were preparing for the university entrance exams and also after the results were announced. The male student known as Xiaodong is hardworker, but the other male student in red clothes is lazy and even has to peek at the answers of the female student next to him during exam time. Xiaodong is giving tutorial help to the other two at a KFC restaurant. The male student in red only concentrated on eating fried chicken and paid no attention. One day before the exam, the three are on the roof reviewing the materials, but the male student in red was preferred to fool around by skating and munching KFC popcorn chicken. The other two criticized him, "Are you taking the exam?" and "You only know eating." Afterwards, the three of them tossed out paper airplanes as motiviaiton for each other. The scene then cuts to after the university entrance exam. Xiaodong failed, but the other passed and entered university in Beijing. A depressed Xiaodong stood on the roof, but the other two companions showed up. The male student in red is munching an old Beijing chicken roll and there is a paper airplane on the ground made from the wrapping for the chicken roll with the words "Xiaodong, try harder!" The two then said together: "We will wait for you in Beijing." Xiaodong laughed, picked up the airplane and released it into the air. The commercial ends.
On April 6, a forum post appeared at Tianya Club under the title "KFC's current ad for the old Beijing chicken roll goes too far." The poster wrote very simply:
"Have you seen the new commercial? The one about the old Beijing chicken roll. Three senior high school students are studying for university, two ate KFC while the third studied hard. In the end, the hard worker failed but the male student friend who ate KFC everyday made it into a university in Beijing! ... I thought that I must have been mistaken, so I asked my colleagues to watch it too. Everybody saw that the one who didn't study made it into university. Isn't this kind of theme in a commercial going too far?"
Immediately, countless number of "bricks" were thrown at the KFC commercial: "Misleading consumers, defrauding consumers" and "I have not seen this commercial but the description from everybody makes it disgusting enough; I strongly protest and this commenercial must be stopped." A few netizens said that they understood only after reading the forum post, "At first, I did not understand. I was perplexed and I thought my comprehension was problematic. It turns out that it was the commercial that had problems"
Within two to three days, more than 50,000 saw that post. The number surprised even the poster. Within the cacophony of criticisms, a few people offered their own rational interpretations of the meaning of the ad: "I personally like this ad. It emphasizes that KFC held the friendship of these three people together. When we think back to the past, we usually evoke particular sceneries. This commercial tells us that KFC served as the scenery."
There is a follow-up to this story at Tianya Club.
(Before: Xiaodong tosses his book away
in frustation when he learned that he did not pass)
(Revised: Xiaodong receives a call
to learn that all three friends passed)
(in translation) When KFC learned about the news, it respondend immediately in order to eliminate social misunderstanding. The old ad was stopped on April 13. Then they worked immediately on new contents, and a new ad will be broadcast on April 18.
... In the new edition, the story about Xiaodong not passing was eliminated. Instead, Xiaodong received a telephone call while riding his bicycle. His friend told him: "We all passed." Thus, the result was completely different from the original as now all three are going to the universities of their dreams.
... Eastday reported on April 20: "Concerning the revision, KFC Shanghai Limited said that the ad was originally intended to communicate the theme that KFC encourages young people to actively face up to life and to never give up regardless of whether one is failing or succeeding. Unfortunately, some audience members had some misunderstanding about the ad."
Why was it necessary that the hardest working Xiaodong should fail? Eastday report: "KFC's explanation was that the story uses the 'unexpected ending' in advertising to improve the watchability of the ad. This is an important technique for literary creation (including television advertisement production). KFC also said that all three principals in the ad like KFC and therefore it was far-stretched for netizens to wonder if 'eating more KFC food will get you into university.' 'We hope that everybody will use a relaxed and tolerant attitude to look at various kinds of literary creations.'"