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Dr Cleeve Robertson, CEO of NSRI and Mukundi Munzhelele, Senior Marketing Manager, KFC

Radio listeners alert NSRI after scientists ‘escape’ from remote Marion Island

A KFC media campaign demonstrating that people will do “anything for the taste” has repeated its predecessor’s feat by capturing the imagination of South Africans.

Two years ago, the first “taste” campaign featured an impostor who dined for free at KFCs countrywide by posing as a “taste inspector”. It won a raft of awards and became known as “the fried chicken heist that gripped the nation”.

The follow-up campaign, “Beyond the Sea”, stepped things up a gear by reaching almost to the ends of the earth to show the lengths people will go to for KFC. In doing so, it inadvertently sparked calls to the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) and an investigation by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa).

The campaign, and a 2 min 40 sec film that was its centrepiece, was inspired by the South Africans who spend a year in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on remote Marion Island, South Africa’s farthest-flung territory, in service of science.

It began with unbranded teasers which interrupted radio shows across the country. They were ham radio messages, ostensibly from a Marion Island scientist making a 2,209 km voyage home. And it was these that sparked nationwide intrigue and triggered calls from alarmed listeners to the NSRI. 

After an investigation by Sea Rescue’s emergency operations centre and Samsa’s Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Cape Town, the truth quickly emerged and the NSRI tweeted: “We now know it’s just an ad, but if you ever really need us, just know that our volunteer rescue crew are on stand-by 24/7. Wherever you are – we are.”

The unbranded phase of the campaign also gave Marion Island researchers the chance to talk on the radio about their work on the 290 km2 volcanic outcrop halfway to the Antarctic which was transferred to South Africa by Britain in the late 1940s.

Marion is the centre of one of the world’s largest environmental protection areas. About 8 million birds from 30 species breed on the island, as well as three seal species, and its isolation makes it an excellent location for collecting pristine atmospheric observations. These aid meteorologists and contribute to research on climate change in the southern hemisphere.

Mission accomplished: KFC Senior Marketing Manager Mukundi Munzhelele handed a R50,000 donation to National Sea Rescue Institute CEO Dr Cleeve Robertson during a thank-you function for the NSRI team at the V&A Waterfront Sea Rescue station in Cape Town on 25 May 2024.

The scientists’ life on the island – including the limited menu on offer in the base where they live – is depicted in the campaign’s cinematic masterpiece, which also features video calls with friends at home enjoying KFC and the moment two scientists “escape” in a rigid inflatable, clutching a KFC shopping list from their fellow islanders.

Brand retail ads during the launch phase of the campaign also depicted Marion Island scientists going to ridiculous lengths to reach the mainland, including using a prototype supersonic submarine and a homemade kitesurfer.

KFC Africa Chief Marketing Officer Grant Macpherson says social media feedback about the campaign, which was conceptualised and executed by Ogilvy South Africa, has been overwhelmingly positive. “We realised that many South Africans had never heard of Marion Island,” he says.

“They were captivated by the idea of scientists choosing to put their lives on hold for a year to go there, and genuinely interested in learning about the work that’s done on this speck of South Africa in the middle of the ocean. 

“But there’s no doubt that the film has been the star of the show. It’s a worthy successor to the ‘taste inspector’ film, which set such a high bar for production values.”

Macpherson says calls to the NSRI after transmissions from the rubber duck were “intercepted” by radio stations came as a surprise. “When we conceptualise large-scale integrated campaigns like this, we try to anticipate and mitigate any unintended consequences,” he says. 

“We didn’t imagine people who heard the radio teasers reporting a maritime emergency, but their concern and the response by the heroes at the NSRI reminded us of the work done by this amazing organisation.”

The NSRI alerted KFC to the calls in a tweet, and in its reply KFC said: “We appreciate your lookout for our chicken voyage! Rest assured, our #MarionIsland journey was just a TASTE expedition. Watch out for a Bucket-load of thanks coming your way.” 

The tweet included a message in Morse code – once commonly used in maritime communication – announcing a R50,000 donation to the NSRI, and the money was handed over on Saturday May 25 at the V&A Waterfront Sea Rescue station in Cape Town.

After accepting the cheque from KFC Senior Marketing Manager Mukundi Munzhelele, NSRI CEO Dr Cleeve Robertson said: “Last year alone, our volunteers rescued more than 1,800 people, and every year our staff work hard on teaching water safety and survival swimming campaigns. All this is expensive, so we’re deeply grateful for KFC’s contribution.”

The handover took place a week after the SA Agulhas II, South Africa’s polar supply and research ship, returned to its mooring near the V&A Sea Rescue station from its annual Marion Island resupply voyage. After dropping off a new team, the vessel brought back scientists who had spent a year on the island. 

Macpherson says most South Africans pining for KFC are unlikely to experience the same difficulties as the fictional Marion Island researchers.

“With 1052 restaurants across the country, the irresistible taste of KFC is never far away,” he says. “But we know that our customers will go to great lengths for our finger-lickin’ good food. We wanted to honour that devotion in a great story and we’re delighted that it’s made such positive waves.”

In the gaming phase of the campaign over the next two months, every KFC lover will be able to get involved by playing the KFC Taste Scrollable mobile game. To get a sense of just how far the Marion Island scientists were prepared to go for the taste of KFC, consumers will be able to scroll the equivalent of 2,000km, with delicious prizes at key moments along the way and a grand prize of over 2,000 pieces of chicken. DM


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