Kristen Strader on KFC and Corporate Commercialism Run Amok

It’s one thing to advertise to children. It’s another thing to pay parents to turn their offspring into an advertisement.

But that’s what Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is doing.

KFC last month launched a contest to lure parents into selling their newborn baby’s identity to KFC – for life.

Parents who name their child Harland – after KFC Founder Colonel Harland Sanders – and agree to the terms of the contest are eligible to receive $11,000 toward their child’s college education. Only one child will be selected, leaving many other children – named Harland by hopeful parents – stuck with KFC-branded names for life.

The selected child’s identity – including name, pictures, voice, likeness and biographical information – will be owned by KFC for advertising purposes.

The company won’t provide any additional compensation or even notify the parents when the child’s likeness is used.

The chosen child will be subject to a lifetime of KFC-branded identity – without their consent.

KFC aims to manipulate desperate parents who only want to do what’s best for their child.

That’s according to Kristen Strader of Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert.

“It’s essentially a KFC marketing stunt that provides KFC with the kind of attention that money can’t buy and disadvantages children and families,” Strader told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “KFC is asking parents to name their child Harlan after the founder of KFC –  Colonel Harland David Sanders – in exchange for a chance of winning $11,000 toward their child’s education.”

“The parents name their child Harland and they have to provide the evidence to KFC that they named their child Harland. Only one child will win this $11,000. Essentially, KFC is taking advantage of the fact that education is extremely expensive. They are using children to sell their product. That essentially what is happening here. It’s one way corporations are exploiting unsuspecting human bodies and identities to make a profit. The children who are named Harland – not only the winner, but many others who enter but don’t win — they will be subject to a lifetime of advertising for KFC. Their identity is owned by KFC.”

Do we know how many parents have named their children Harland as a result of this contest?

“We don’t. KFC has a submissions form on their website. That is how people submit. There is no way to know how many people have submitted. KFC knows.”

What are you asking KFC to do?

“Before they opened the submission form, we asked them not to do this, to end this contest and never do anything like it in the future. It’s exploiting children, but it’s also exploiting parents desire to provide for their children. Parents want to send their children to college. They don’t want them to have loans when they graduate. KFC is preying upon that desire.”

“It’s a little bit tricky at this point because they have opened the contest and promised this amount of money to some person. And since the child has to be born on September 9, at this point, someone probably has already named their child Harland and submitted the information to KFC.”

The child had to be born on September 9, 2018. Colonel Harland Sanders was born on September 9, 1890.

Have they announced the winner?

“They haven’t. They say they will announce the winner on October 9. And the person who they choose is going to be the child first on September 9. If say five people enter, it’s the earliest birth time.”

Have you ever come across anything like this?

“I have never seen anything like this. It seems to be KFC reacting to social media frenzy. There is this low key online thing that happens between the fast food companies on Twitter where they kind of compete against each other in this joking fashion.”

“Wendy’s in particular has a big Twitter frenzy. This might be KFC saying – this will cause a big social media frenzy and people will talk about it even if it sounds ridiculous. People haven’t been talking so much on social media, but there have been at least fifteen articles written about it, many of which are either neutral or in favor of the contest.”

“They are spending $11,000 in prize money, but they are getting so much more in  publicity just for simply doing this.”

Should there be limits on commercialism? And if so, where do you draw the line?

“Commercialism is expansive,” Strader says. “Advertising and marketing falls under commercialism. And so does the culture in which we live. There should be lines. The lines should be drawn, especially where corporations are exploiting people to advance their own advertising and marketing agendas.”

“At the end of the day, corporations want to sell a product. And they don’t really care what the means are to sell that products. Everywhere we turn, we are subject to advertising. Much the time, we don’t even realize it.”

“The Federal Trade Commission is charged with protecting us from that kind of advertising. We are supposed to know when we are being advertised to. But unfortunately, right now, because of technology, we often don’t know when we are being advertised to.”

“A good example of that is influencer marketers on social media. You have everyone from celebrities like Kim Kardashian with millions of followers, to everyday people like our friends and family with just a few hundred followers, they are being paid to sell us a product. Often, they don’t disclose that they are being paid, we don’t even know it is an advertisement. We take it at face value, as a genuine endorsement. And we are not able to put on the appropriate filters in our minds to determine whether or not this is a product we want or need. We are being manipulated into thinking that we want or need that product.”

“In cases like that, we need strong regulations to prevent companies from exploiting our relationships with one another. And that’s just one example of how companies take advantage of everyday people.”

“Most of what we experience in life has a commercial influence. That’s why we felt as if our  national parks campaign was so important. National parks are one of the few places untouched by commercialism. It’s also a public resource. It should be untouched by corporations. Any time we are talking about a public space, that should be off limits. Even the public transportation system.”

“We helped with a campaign in New York City to eliminate alcohol advertising from the public transportation system. These alcohol companies were putting advertising on the subway steps where people of color and low income people were living in New York. They were very much targeting a certain population for a product that was harmful.”

“The line should be drawn at public spaces. When it comes to the New York City subway, people can’t escape it. They have to use the train to get to work. They might be driving in a car and there is an advertisement on the back of a bus that they are subject to. But when we are talking about a public resource like that National Park Service or the transportation system, those are public resources that should be left untouched by commercialism.”

“Another line is when we are talking about children. Children under the age of eight don’t have the ability to put up the proper filters and understand the true intent of an advertisement. There should be no advertising to children at all.”

“That is a world we could live in. But unfortunately, a lot of folks laugh the idea because now we have so much advertising directed at children. And it just dates back to the Trix cereal boxes. In the 1970s, folks tried to do something about this issue. Advertising targeting children with unhealthy foods affects their long term health and how they do or do not prosper into adulthood.”

There could be governing policy saying for example that public spaces shall be commercial free zones. Has that ever been seriously considered?

“There are a lot of smaller towns around the country that take this kind of approach. They say they don’t want billboards and commercialism in their towns. But this tends to be advocated more so in person, in town hall meetings, where there is a collaborative efforts on behalf of the community. Andover, Massachusetts has a bylaw saying no to excessive commercialism and advertising in public spaces. But on a state or national scale, I don’t know whether it has been seriously considered.”

Are there some school districts that have limited commercialism?

“Yes. Some schools do prohibit advertising and commercialism within their schools. People tend to not use the word commercialism. It can be interpreted in different ways. I have seen more strict policies around advertising junk food or sugary drinks, rather than commercialism as a whole.”

“When we are talking about a school, there is the sponsorship of a scoreboard. That is different from vending machines in the school, or advertising in the school.”

[For the complete Interview with Kristen Strader, see 32 Corporate Crime Reporter 38(12), Monday September 24, 2018, print edition only.]


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