Judge Says KFC Must Answer For Oprah Coupon Debacle

Remember last year, when KFC vastly underestimated the popularity of Oprah Winfrey and left millions of customers holding worthless coupons for free grilled chicken meals? The fast food chain had recently asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit over the debacle, but the judge — probably a fan of Popeye’s — has said no.

For those who have forgotten, in May 2009 Oprah took to her TV show to rave up a storm about KFC’s grilled chicken and then announced that she and KFC would be giving out coupons redeemable for two pieces of chicken, two sides and a biscuit.

Within a day, it was already obvious that a mistake had been made with customers complaining of long waits or having their coupons denied outright by KFC employees. And by the second day of the promo, almost all KFCs stopped honoring the coupons entirely. Customers were told they could go online and get a raincheck for use at a later date.

According to the judge, around 57% of the 10 million coupons printed went unredeemed by KFC.

A rep for the Colonel tried to shrug off the lawsuit with a “well, we gave some people free chicken” defense:

We provided millions of free Kentucky Grilled Chicken meals around the country when the offer was announced in 2009… Due to the overwhelming response, we distributed millions of rain check coupons for the holders of valid coupons who we were unable to serve during the offer period.

But the judge in the case, which is seeking class action status, wasn’t willing to take KFC’s raincheck. “Plaintiffs’ allegations, taken as true, plausibly suggest that Defendants’ ‘raincheck program’ was not a cure, but a requirement for additional performance,” he wrote.

KFC Fails to End Suit Over Chicken-and-Sides Coupons [BusinessWeek]

Lawsuit Calls Infamous KFC Chicken Giveaway A “Bait And Switch”
Oprah and KFC’s Free Grilled Chicken Promotion: What Went Wrong
Going to KFC For Free Chicken? You’ve Got A Long Wait
KFC On Oprah: Everybody Gets A Chicken! Everybody Gets A Chicken!


Edit Your Comment

  1. TuxthePenguin says:

    If I were an economics teacher, I’d use this as proof about the law of demand – the cheaper something is, the more people will consume of it.

    How can I derive that just from this? “Customers complained of long lines” can easily be assumed to mean that normally there isn’t long lines – so demand spiked because of these coupons.

    It’d also be good to show the law of supply – the cheaper something is, the less of it that gets produced. Which is why KFC stopped honoring the coupons.

    • c!tizen says:

      If I were an economics teacher, I’d use this as proof about the law of Opera – the more Opera endorses something, the more people will consume it.

      How can I derive that just from this? She’s Opera.

    • Draygonia says:

      Wrong, the cheaper something is, the more that should be available. You fail at economics…

      If there is more of something, it is cheaper. Less of something, it is more expensive.

      • Propaniac says:

        Let me guess: you haven’t actually taken an economics class.

        When the price that consumers are willing to pay for Product X goes down, lowering the profit on Product X for the manufacturer, the manufacturer will produce less of Product X, because his resources are better spent to produce something with a higher profit, such as Product Y. Product X’s lower selling price indicates that society values Product X less and that resources are better spent producing something more valuable.

        So, the price of Product X goes down, the supply of Product X goes down, then people are willing to pay more for it because of the scarcity, and the price goes back up until a new equilibrium between the quantity supplied and the quantity demanded is achieved.

        As to how it applies to this situation: obviously there was a rise in the quantity of chicken demanded when the price dropped to zero. But I doubt there was a decrease in the quantity supplied, because on that day the restaurants were trying to satisfy the angry chicken-seeking masses, not make a profit.

    • kmw2 says:

      I’m glad you’re not an economics teacher, because that’s not how it goes. Goods that are cheap are only consumed in proportion to the consumer’s desire for them (for example, not even free is cheap enough to make me eat KFC). If a good is very cheap, it may be used as a substitute for something preferred, or an inferior good, in cases of restricted resources (KFC

  2. aloria says:

    OT, but I hate the word “meal.”

    • Phil Villakeepinitrreal says:


    • Conformist138 says:

      Me, too! I hate how it sounds and even how it feels to say. I thought I was the only person who avoided using that word when possible, I’m glad I’m not entirely alone on that one.

    • fuceefacee says:

      OT for sure since the word “meat” doesn’t exist in the article. How precious you are. Surely there must be a vegan forum for you somewhere.

      • ColumnarPad says:

        That’s AMAZING ‘fuceefacee’, because I didn’t see the word “Meat” either! Nor did I see it in the post made by ‘aloria’ that you were criticizing! Now, “Meal” on the other hand yes and, ‘aloria’, I totally agree with you. Makes my skin crawl for some reason.

  3. NashuaConsumerist says:

    I just don’t get it…. This chicken still seems greasy and because there’s no breading on the outside the pieces looked tiny and tasted dried out. I gave it two chances. The only thing I’d ever get from KFC would be a bucket of wings to share with friends, and the past few times I’ve been there (at least 2 locations local to me, Nashua and Concord NH) they run out of food well before closing time with no urgency to fulfil requested orders.

    Not uncommon for a visit more than an hour before close:
    “This guy wants some wings..”
    “Tell him we’re out.”
    “Now he want’s fried chicken…”
    “Well, I’m not turing on the frialator back on, I already cleaned it, offer him some mashed potatos and get rid of him”
    “We have some mashed potato or wedges, but that’s it….”

    • Mr. Pottersquash says:

      either you go extremely late for chicken (more power to you) or Nasshua does not have enough late night fry eaters. As a member of the Great State of Louisiana I can attest the South has not these problems.

      • NashuaConsumerist says:

        Well, NH may not be known for fried chicken consumption, but turning away customers with cash in hand is never a good idea.

        • Jeff_Number_3 says:

          Unless the money it that would be wasted cooking an entire batch of chicken for one customer is greater then the profit that made from a single order.

          Plus having worked at KFC for a few summers, it’s a PITA to clean the fryers out (though they do look good when done properly).

          Though with the quality of a lot of the closers I had to yell at over time, I’d chalk it to laziness.

          • Conformist138 says:

            so close earlier if there’s truly no demand (unless KFC corporate won’t even allow a store to set reasonable hours of operation). you can’t be a chicken place that is open and yet be unwilling to sell chicken. i worked in college at a soft pretzel place and we NEVER refused customers during business hours. If my boss saw me turn off any of our ovens before the exact second of closing, she would have ripped me a few new openings in which to store my training manual for future reference. She owned the place and her biggest peeve was needlessly disappointing our customers since losing a few pennies to make one happy is worth so much more in repeat business. Pretzels and chicken may be stupid things to get upset over, but they look mighty important when you rely on them to make a living and you can see the money walking away.

          • minjche says:

            Excuse my stereotype, but I doubt the KFC employees were doing a cost/benefit analysis. It sounds to me like they were just being lazy.

          • haggis for the soul says:

            But you’re not just losing the profit from that order. Once the KFC in my town became known for “running out” of chicken at 7pm, people started patronizing the Church’s and Lee’s in town that would serve chicken as long as the store was open. I haven’t been back to that KFC in 3 years.

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      My problem with it is the sodium content. You can taste it drying out your arteries.

  4. Sparty999 says:

    So, how will the lawyers be getting paid? Do they get to keep the mashed potatoes and biscuits, and pass the chicken on to the clients?

  5. rpm773 says:

    And Oprah once again gets away scott free…

    • cmdr.sass says:

      It’s “scot free” you illiterate hobo.

    • PanCake BuTT says:

      Fight, fight… interwebzFight, fight !

      Who is gonna come out on top ?!?!? Stay tuned !

    • chefguru says:

      Why is this Oprah’s fault? She didn’t do this without KFC’s knowledge. They were the ones who agreed to do it, she just announced it. It’s not HER fault that the stores underestimated the popularity of the promotion.

      • liz.lemonade says:

        Or that the stores didn’t realize people would print out twenty copies of the coupon and hand them out to everyone they know. I must’ve been offered five of them by coworkers.

  6. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    Mrah. The justice system is wasting its time and money dealing with chicken instead of criminals *sigh* sometimes I really hate how this country works.

    • jonmason1977 says:

      False advertising and failing to honor a contract is against the law. This is exactly why the courts are there. Just because they weren’t putting razorblades in their chicken doesn’t mean they can do what they like.

    • kmw2 says:

      They aren’t dealing with chicken, they’re dealing with a legal breach by a major corporation. Seems worthwhile to me.

      (Plus, have you seen some of the crap that washes up in criminal courts? What’s worse, smoking a joint or stiffing 5 million people on their free chicken?)

    • Lightman says:

      Civil courts never deal with criminals…

  7. Murph1908 says:

    During a gaming party, a buddy of mine and I went to KFC to pick up a bunch of chicken for the gang. We ordered a couple of buckets, half Extra Crispy and half Original Recipe.

    When we pulled up to the window, the more-than-moderately endowed young woman at the window leaned out and said, “I only have one original breast.”

    “That’s fine.” My friend said flatly. We got our buckets, pulled out, looked at each other, and bust out laughing.

    I told him it took all my willpower not to say, “My compliments to your surgeon!” He almost wrecked the car.

    Probably one of those “gee, never heard THAT one before” things, but it made us laugh.

  8. PanCake BuTT says:

    KFc should have played it smart, just like these guys did :


    Sheer genius, if you ask me. Call it like it is .

    • AI says:

      “How am I supposed to feed my family!” “They should have had a tractor trailer out back full of chicken on ice!”

    • pantheonoutcast says:

      “People have kids that they tryna feed with the special” (Drives away in $50,000 SUV)

      “They gotta get they stuff together” (Calling customer service on Boost mobile phone)

      That video was like the stereotype Olympics….

    • rayne117 says:

      Every person featured in that news clip are black.

  9. Mundo says:

    Personally went for El Pollo Loco’s offer instead. Partly because of how rude the KFC employee was when I initially tried to bring in the offer, and partly because El Pollo Loco allowed us to use it on Mother’s day (granted, only on that one day, but hey, at least my mom enjoyed the chicken).

    One thing I did remember my coworker accomplishing though is printing out several coupons from Oprah’s website, all with individual barcodes. I remember him joking about going for two weeks there for lunch, but even he seemed sick of the idea by the third day. This glitch was fixed the day after my friend pulled it off, but considering this, I don’t exactly feel like blaming KFC completely for this debacle.

  10. COBBCITY says:

    I agree that this is probably a group of lawyers trying to get huge fees.

    HOWEVER, that said, KFC is part of a very large restaurant company. Either their marketing department is staffed with total fools or they knew they would not be able to honor most of the coupons but did not expect the negative media coverage that was created.

    This is not the birth of the internet. The marketing landscape is littered with stories of web retailers who issued coupon codes for online use that did not work as intended or had far more response than planned. Heck, a few ended up out of business because of it.

    Yum corporate was totally unaware of the popularity of Oprah? Did not review her viewership? Did not realize an online coupon could be printed by each and ever viewer? Did not monitor each printing of the coupon online to know they had issued far more than planned before the mess was created? Did not speak to every franchise to make sure they had complete buy in and proper food supplies on hand?

    If all of that above is the case, they should all have been fired. Now, it looks like KFC will have a massive class action settlement to pay someday. Maybe that will finally teach the industry to be careful.

  11. common_sense84 says:

    I still have not got my chicken. This better go class action.

  12. bhr says:

    The settlement. $20 million for the lawyers, chicken coupons for the class.

  13. dg says:

    They should get sued. For a minimum dollar amount that equals what they would have had to give away to all takers of the offer. THEN on top of that, add 3x because they:

    a) are a bunch of buffoons running the marketing department
    b) are a bunch of swarmy marketer scam artists hoping to get over in the marketing department
    c) need to be taught a lesson not to do this again, and need to send a message to other companies that this will get them slapped hard
    d) all of the above

  14. suburbancowboy says:

    Oprah is such a tremendous hypocrite. She has people like Dr. Oz and Deepak Chopra on her show. She promotoes Dr. Oz, and talks about healthy lifestyle choices, and then she shills for this horribly unhealthy product.

    Here are the ingredients:
    Fresh Chicken Marinated With Salt, Sodium Phosphate, and Monosodium Glutamate. Seasoned With: Maltodextrin, Salt, Bleached Wheat Flour, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Cottonseed Oil, Monosodium Glutamate, Secret Kentucky Grilled Chicken Spices, Palm Oil, Natural Flavor, Garlic Powder, Soy Sauce (Soybean, Wheat, Salt), Chicken Fat, Chicken Broth, Autolyzed Yeast, Beef Powder, Rendered Beef Fat, Extractives of Turmeric, Dehydrated Carrot, Onion Powder, and Not More Than 2% Each of Calcium Silicate and Silicon Dioxide Added As Anticaking Agents.

    MSG? TWICE? Why is there beef fat and beef broth in the chicken? Since when does “grilled chicken” have any of this crap in it? You are allowed to list “secret grilling spices” as an ingredient?

    I am sure there are a lot of people who would eat this who don’t eat meat, and then the only way you can find out that there is beef in the chicken is by digging deep on their website. People go in thinking it is healthier than the fried chicken, but just look at those ingredients. It is ridiculous.

    • Kibit says:

      I feel sick to my stomach after reading that ingredient list. So glad I don’t eat at KFC. Yuck!

      I do agree with what you are saying. I can’t imagine Deepak Chopra or Dr. Oz would approve. Although Bob Greene might approve, some of the ingredients in his “Best Life” foods aren’t exactly healthy.

    • pantheonoutcast says:

      ‘She has people like Dr. Oz and Deepak Chopra on her show. She promotoes Dr. Oz, and talks about healthy lifestyle choices, and then she shills for this horribly unhealthy product.”

      You’re making the assumption that people like Oz and Chopra aren’t anything more than opportunistic quacks looking to sell their books on chakras and acupuncture.

  15. GrandizerGo says:

    2.5 years ago I had chicken from a local KFC’s, had been going there for years off and on…
    That night though I prayed to the porcelain gods though as I was sick and had what the doctors think was not food poisoning but unclean poisoning. In other words someone did not wash their hands after using the restroom and then touched my food.
    In 3 days I lost 15 pounds.
    I have offered all people that know me a 100 dollar payment if they EVER see me knowingly eating KFC chicken again.

  16. Blious says:

    KFC has now failed several times with their so-called days of coupons….the last time was free chicken and in reality people got the smallest, worst piece of 1-2 pieces

  17. minjche says:

    I’m in a biodiesel research group at my university, and we got a barrel of used oil from KFC, and having seen a lot of used oil, KFC had by far the dirtiest.

    It was almost pitch black, and even after several trips through filters ranging from cheese cloth down to 100 micron filters the oil was still dark and gritty.

    The biodiesel we made from it retained the same color and smelled awful.