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KFC faces backlash over 'finger lickin'' campaign amid coronavirus outbreak

With heightened awareness about health and hygiene surrounding COVID-19, KFC's classic tagline isn't going over well.
/ Source: TODAY

Unfortunately for KFC, now is not the time to be finger lickin' good.

The international chicken chain recently removed a new ad that had just started running in the U.K and online after viewers felt it was insensitive to hygiene concerns amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Not long ago, the commercial, which features dozens of people licking their fingers in KFC restaurants, would have been considered a sweet ode to the chain's famous tagline. However, amid rising numbers of people being ordered to quarantine, municipal limitations on public gatherings and — perhaps most notably — constant reminders to wash our hands often, the ad received a lot of backlash.

Set to the romantic "Nocturnes" suite by Frederic Chopin, the ad titled "Piano" is a series of one closeup after another of customers licking their fingers after eating fried chicken. One couple even licks the fried chicken grease off of each other's fingers. Another man licks his finger and then turns the pages of a newspaper ... which he could have hypothetically left on the table for others to pick up!

This little montage takes place over the course of a whole minute. Though, for many, it felt way too long.

As of Friday, 63 people had complained to the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority, a spokesperson told TODAY Food, about the ad that first aired in February.

Many called it "irresponsible" and claimed it "encouraged behavior" that could increase the risk of contagion. The ASA did not pursue any action, however, since KFC decided to stop running the ad anyway.

"We have been in touch with KFC, who had already taken the decision to withdraw the ad before we had informed them of the complaints," the ASA spokesperson told TODAY.

Whether KFC had plans to air the commercial in the U.S. (or will play it again in the future) remains unclear, as a representative from the chain was not immediately available for comment Friday.

But on social media, the ad also ignited some strong reactions.

"Slap a red filter on this, put a "DANGER: COVID-19" label at the top, add thriller soundtrack and you'll have yourself a scary and disguisting (sic) COVID-19 trailer instead," one person wrote in the ad's Youtube comments.

On Twitter, one person put it simply: "It’s NOT good to lick fingers during the Coronavirus pandemic."

Some folks felt viewers took the tagline spoof too literally and didn't find the material insensitive.

According to KFC folklore, the chain's famous catchphrase was actually created by accident in the 1950s when franchisee Dave Harman was eating fried chicken in the background of a TV commercial. A viewer called in to speak with Harman's manager (Ken Harbough), and complained about Harman licking his fingers.

Thinking quick on his feet, Harbough allegedly responded,"Well, it's finger lickin' good."

In 2020, however, no one's getting away with finger licking — especially in public places.