While KFC enjoys strong business momentum in China, it faces constant threat from other categories vying for the same millennial audience. The added convenience of food delivery services via mobile has only stiffened the competition.
By creating Colonel KI and turning it into the new League of Legends icon, KFC was able to cement its position as an MVP with gamers, plus gain new fans for its mobile app and widespread buzz for its innovation.
Objective and Context:
KFC has made the gamer community a core pillar of its communications in China since 2015. Four years on, gaming has become a serious sport in China. The company was valued at $1.25 billion U.S. dollars in 2018, and it is projected to grow to $3 billion by 2020 with a 24 percent year-over-year growth rate for audiences between the ages of 16 and 30.
With gaming getting more serious, KFC needed to move away from the sidelines of sponsorship and into deeper engagement with gamers. The company didn't want its consumers to be spectators. Instead, it wanted to make them part of the game by making KFC an integral part of League of Legends, the world's most popular esport game, with roughly 111 million players in China alone.
Gamers like their numbers, whether it's winning ratios, gold, magic stats, or health stats. Esports games like League of Legends have more numbers than a typical game of football or basketball. But with all these numbers churned out in real time, fans and sports commentators often still rely on general gut feel and sheer excitement to anticipate who will win a match.
No typical fan has the time to do predictive probability calculations while watching a game that has four or five things happening simultaneously. It is often the person next to you in the crowd, the friend you are watching with online, or the commentator of the day who influences which team you believe will win.
One famous online influencer named Huang Xudong bravely attempted to make these predictions for fans. However, he became even more famous because of his inaccurate predictions, leading to fans jokingly nicknaming him "Bad Luck Gambler."
KFC saw the lack of winner predictions as its biggest opportunity to address an unmet need with the potential to significantly elevate fans' gaming experiences.
Enter Colonel KI (KFC-AI), KFC's AI algorithm for predicting League of Legends winners. KFC partnered with data company PentaQ to create an algorithm based on all historical data and real-time data for each team. The algorithm in the form of Colonel KI was capable of giving out real-time predictions on who would win a match based on game stats. The AI predictor proved to be so accurate that fans went crazy for it.
Overall Campaign Execution:
In esports, real-time performance data is vital for an audience to truly understand the current situation, as well as crucial for gamers to analyze their performance versus their competitors, allowing them to develop and refine their future strategy.
KFC added value from start to finish, as all gamers and fans could track the predictions before, during, and after the matches. This approach ensured KFC became an integral part of the game, delivering added value to gamers, fans, and the brand.
Colonel KI's predictions were featured on the actual game screen. He appeared at the beginning of each game and also during every break of the live stream to give predictions.
During the game, a Colonel KI graph at the bottom of the screen appeared to show real-time win rates (pointing to the team who was likeliest to win), which updated as the game progressed.
During the most exciting moments of the game (e.g., "first blood," the first score of each match), Colonel KI also served as a warm-hearted cheerleader and distributed KFC coupons to fans, inviting the audience to order KFC online and have fried chicken while enjoying the game.
Internet penetration among people between the ages of 16 and 30 in China is approximately 90 percent, with mobile playing a central role in their digital lives.
While League of Legends is played in a desktop environment, gamers spend their remaining time analyzing the game, catching up on game news, and socializing about the game on their mobile phones.
To ensure KFC did not miss out on this important part of the gaming journey, the company created an HTML 5 version of Colonel KI's winning predictions. This was housed on KFC's mobile app, allowing fans to log in to the mobile app to access live game data, track real-time predictions throughout the match, and check out mobile-exclusive data on what was going on in the arena, down to the most micro of stats.
All this mobile content benefitted gamers, as it allowed them to recap their performance after the game, analyzing at which point in time the odds shifted in their favor. KFC also created mobile-only coupons for hungry gamers, allowing them to fuel up on KFC before each League of Legends match.
KFC gained 70 minutes of brand exposure per day, four times more than planned, bringing the brand to over 203 million (peak number of viewers) viewers of the League of Legends live streams.
The company saw the audience passionately calling for Colonel KI, and received more than 1.9 million on-screen comments (scrolling text during matches) specific to KFC.
Within 19 match days, KFC had harvested a total of 540,000-page views for the KFC app. People clamored for the available coupons on the KFC app, causing several KFC servers to shut down. In addition, 100 percent of available coupons were taken (versus the average rate of 3 percent), and 11 percent redeemed in stores and delivery, which is 25 times the average promotional rate.
The company is proudest of the business impact of its campaign, but Colonel KI's impact has extended beyond this due to its first-of-a-kind nature and innovativeness. On Weibo, one of China's biggest social media platforms (similar to Twitter), KFC topic views reached 35 million organically, which is twice as much as the most viewed Weibo topic from 2018's World Cup brand sponsors.
This achievement is significant in a market like China where Weibo's top topics tend to be dominated by celebrity news. Colonel KI bet the A-listers with his AI-powers. It is also worth noting that no other League of Legends sponsor scored a trending topic on Weibo.