by Sabrina Forbes. KFC has been in South Africa for almost 50 years, has 960 stores nationwide currently and a top-five seat on almost every top-brand awards, so it’s not surprising that a large portion of local consumers believe the American fast-food restaurant chain is South African. This is according to Suhayl Limbada, KFC South Africa marketing director: innovation (@suhayl7).

Synonymous with SA

KFC has also been an integral part of SA’s colourful history, he says, making it synonymous with the country and its people, and this may be due to the freedom given to the brand: “One of the reasons I work for KFC is that it’s a completely decentralised organisation, which means we basically run our own marketing based off local consumer insights and needs.”

For Limbada, because KFC is considered a SA brand by most, it needs to stay true to that. He recalls previous employers having a very top-down approach when it came to consumer communication, and he often asked what they truly knew about his own market from their offices in New York.

KFC SA isn’t instructed to follow any work or strategy but does share best-practice with the rest of the world’s markets. Every year, 300 KFC marketers worldwide meet in Dallas, Texas, to share ideas and insights. The opportunity here, he says, is to pick and choose what they want to take home but also to fuse different ideas together into something that would work in their markets. Much of his role entails spending time and energy on understanding local consumers, and developing products and ideas that are completely in line with them.

Proudly SA innovation

An example of a proudly SA innovation is the mid-2019 launch of Hot & Crispy. For many years, KFC locally had one type of flavour for its chicken-on-the-bone option, with zinger wings being the only relatively spicy choice. Chicken on the bone is a massive part of the business and, for the first time, an alternative to the world-famous crispy chicken flavour is now on offer.

The TVC that’s launched this sees Detective Duma single-mindedly trying to figure out where all the heat in his city is coming from. The strategy behind the ad is comparing the sweat we generate when eating hot food to the way we sweat when being questioned or feeling guilty. Duma doesn’t end up finding the heat source but it’s clear to viewers that it’s coming from a local KFC.

In terms of KFC’s main competition, Limbada agrees that one would immediately think of Chicken Licken or Hungry Lion but this isn’t so. “If you had to ask me what KFC is in SA, it’s chicken and chips. What we’re seeing from a general competition perspective in the QSR [quick-service restaurant] industry is it’s heating up and… we’re seeing the growth of pizza as significant enough for us to sit up and take notice. So, if you had to ask me specifically who I think our competitors are, it would be McDonalds and Debonairs,” he says, adding that while Nando’s may also be viewed as one, it’s not a primary competitor as the two don’t play in the same price bracket.


When it comes to challenges, Limbada says it has much to do with the current economy: “From a general QSR perspective, I’d say [in] the day in the life of any marketer, here in SA, the challenges that we face are around the [ones] the economy brings us, which is increasing costs — things are getting more expensive, therefore the cost of making one piece of chicken and getting it to the consumer is becoming more and more expensive. Yet the consumer is squeezed and they want to get more value for their money. So, [what] keeps me up at night is figuring out how to still deliver that awesome value they have come to expect.”

He’s also seen the rising growth of interest in meal-sharing. From a QSR point of view, this works well in the favour of pizza brands like Debonairs. For Limbada, the definition of value is not always price but that, if people are to part with their hard-earned money, a physical or emotional experience is expected in return. Sharing a meal with your family is one example.

The brand also takes this into consideration when designing and communicating new offers to people who know exactly what they want and return for the same style of meal, over and over. An example of this is the Streetwise Bucket for 1: for R29.90, you get two pieces of chicken and a small portion of chips. Limbada believes that leveraging the equity of Streetwise and offering a smaller option just makes sense.

This year, KFC has also launched the Zinger Chutney Burger in partnership with Mrs Balls, creating a brand narrative that speaks to a love story between Mrs Balls and the Colonel, and Twitter came out to play on this one.

Ahead of the curve

Staying ahead of the curve is a core focus for Limbada; from an innovation perspective, the brand launches a new product at least once every six weeks. The combination of value and innovation has seen very-successful products created over the past year, such as the Dunked Burger. This is a chicken fillet dunked in a honey, soya, and ginger sauce, and placed on a bun. It was so popular that, when it was removed from the menu, people even starting tweeting the president of SA to get him to bring it back, and a couple of international markets are looking into launching their own versions. Luckily for consumers, KFC launched its newest smoky Dunked Burger last month.

It wouldn’t be 2019 without discussing the environment, plastic, and veganism. KFC globally has committed to using 100% recoverable and reusable plastic packaging by 2025. Locally, small steps are being taken to follow this commitment: plastic straws are no longer offered and KFC’s HQ doesn’t allow the use of plastic cups anymore.

“We have the biggest QSR brand in the country,” says Limbada. “We have a responsibility to lead. We all want to leave a better world for our children and it would be irresponsible of us to not take the first steps of making changes the entire world needs to make. From our perspective, not only doing it in our offices but forming part of our longer-term strategy is to remove or, at least, have significantly less reliance on plastic. I personally believe that great brands are built internally and, if you have a really honest intention, it must start from home. It’s a long-term commitment. We hope that others treat it with as much care as we do; it’s an honest and real intention.”

This year, KFC in Atlanta trialed a vegan version of its chicken burger; in June 2017, in the UK, the Imposter Burger replaced the chicken fillet with one made from Quorn. The burger soon sold out.

Core agencies

KFC has three core agencies: Ogilvy South Africa, which has worked on the creative account for 22 years; MindShare, which has had the media business for 12 years, and Edelman South Africa, which took over the PR account four months ago. Limbada is grateful for the relationships he has with them, adding that KFC SA has only been so immensely successful as a brand because of its partnerships. When it comes to Ogilvy, both the Johannesburg and Cape Town teams work together and are given creative freedom while being responsible for the brand.

As Limbada travels so much and sees a lot of global work, he knows that SA creative truly is world-class. He’s seen that the best work is because clients give freedom to their creative partners but say no to mediocre work. He believes that, if we all push for this excellence as an industry, we won’t only be elevating it but also the talent within it. “Be braver in what you do and trust your creative partner to deliver magic,” he concludes.

See also


Sabrina Forbes“#Agency/BrandFocus” is an ongoing weekly series updating the market on ad agency performance, including business performance, innovation, initiatives, the work, awards and people.

Sabrina Forbes (IG) is an experienced writer covering the food, health, lifestyle, beverage, marketing and media industries. She runs her own full-stack web/app development and digital-first content creation company. For more, go to She is a contributing writer to

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