KFC has created the first-ever hidden message within a television commercial to launch their new Buffalo KFC Snacker sandwich.
updated 2/23/2006 4:51:56 PM ET 2006-02-23T21:51:56

Psstt. KFC wants to share a secret. No, not that secret.

Colonel Sanders’ herbs-and-spices recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken is still safely locked away, but the chain unveiled a new TV ad Thursday that allows viewers to crack a hidden message if they play the spot back slowly on a digital video recorder or VCR.

The gimmick is aimed at countering the rise of technology that enables television viewers to skip past commercials faster than ever before.

“This is taking the exact opposition approach — rewarding viewers for taking the time to engage and be interactive with television,” said Tom O’Keefe, an executive at Foote Cone & Belding, the advertising agency that created the spot for KFC Corp.

For those savvy enough to solve the secret, the prize is a coupon for KFC’s new, sauce-drenched Buffalo Snacker chicken sandwich. The 99-cent Snacker debuted a year ago and is credited in KFC’s earnings rebound.

“We’re trying to create a little fun,” said Scott Bergren, chief marketing officer at KFC, a unit of Louisville-based Yum! Brands Inc.

The ads will air on NBC’s Winter Olympic telecasts as well as on several other networks. The secret message explaining how to redeem the free sandwich offer is planted in just a few of the spot’s frames and revealed when replayed in slow motion.

“To the naked eye, it’s a typical KFC television commercial,” he said.

Technology that allows viewers to fast-forward past commercials — particularly DVRs that zip through ads in a flash — has been a headache for the television industry and advertisers. But analysts say KFC may be on to something.

“Any strategy that gets a message to rise above the clutter is terrific from the advertiser’s perspective,” said Josh Bernoff, an analyst with Forrester Research, a Cambridge, Mass., company that analyzes technology trends. “Even if it’s not much of a secret, it’s still a pretty good marketing idea.”

O’Keefe, whose agency also handles advertising for Taco Bell, another Yum! Brands unit, said he expects the KFC commercial to get the advertising industry’s attention.

Advertising executive Jamie King said the KFC ad seemed to be a unique response to the rise of DVRs — which she called “remote control on steroids” — and she predicted more advertising innovations that use of the same technology.

“It’s really going to allow you to do more and to become more interactive,” said King, senior vice president at Publicis & Hal Riney, based in San Francisco,

KFC, with more than 13,000 restaurants worldwide, said the ads featuring the secret message will run nationally until March 3.

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