In Japan, Christmas tastes better with KFC

Did you know that KFC has been a Christmas Tradition in Japan for nearly 50 years?

The first KFC store in Japan was opened in1970 by Takeshi Okawara during a time when foreign franchises started popping up in the country, the famous ones being Baskin-Robbins, Mister Donut and The Original Pancake House.

Japan had less than 1% of the population that identified as Christians, so naturally they didn’t have any established family Christmas traditions.

Seeing this as an opportunity, in 1974, Okawara started a campaign, “Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii” (Kentucky for Christmas), where they sold the combo of KFC’s original recipe chicken & a bottle of wine, which became widely popular.

It has been told that Okawara himself had the idea of a “party barrel” to be sold on Christmas, which was spurred by overhearing foreigners in his store talking about missing turkey on Christmas in Japan.

Years later, Okawara confessed that he had falsely marketed fried chicken as a traditional American Christmas food to drum up sales.

Conflicting origin stories aside, KFC managed to capture the imagination of Japanese diners and create a national phenomenon.

And the numbers clearly are astonishing:
▪️KFC Japan pulled in 6.9 billion yen (roughly US$63 million) from December 20 to 25 in 2018
▪️They sell around 300,000 party barrels & 800,000 Christmas packs, which accounts for about a third of the chain’s yearly sales in Japan
▪️Currently, close to 40 % of the orders are pre-booked, with the bookings starting six weeks prior to Christmasto avoid waiting in hours in line, and Christmas Eve is the most popular date – about ten times busier than normal

The campaign’s prolonged success over the years can be attributed to the fact that it basically filled a void in Japanese tradition. Having used the same jingle song for around 20 years in its Christmas TV ad, KFC Japan striked a emotional connection with the Japanese, where they associate the jingle with the arrival of Christmas and many even sing along to it and Life-size Col. Sanders statues in red-and-white outfits each time the holiday rolls around, has been an interesting sight.

The messaging, in fact, was simple and clear, delivering a simple message that ‘During Christmas, you eat chicken’. This actually very much appealed to one culture’s fascination with the cuisine of another, similar to the adoption of sushi globally.

Interestingly, according to some experts, KFC was similar to a popular traditional Japanese dish called karaage, comprising of small pieces of panko-breaded, deep-fried meats and KFC’s flavor profiles was not a new taste that people have to get accustomed to.

For the Japanese, the tradition has been more than just a company promotion. KFC meant family on Christmas day. Being able to share food has always been an important social practice in Japan. So a bucket of fried chicken both tastes familiar and fulfills this desire to eat together.

Today their Christmas offerings include cakes and champagne along with the Colonel’s secret recipe chicken and is one among the interesting cases of Cultural Marketing. Their ability to adapt its traditional foods to Japanese culture has made a whole bucket of chicken a meal worth having year round.

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