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As public health organisations around the globe continue to stress the importance of hand-washing to combat the rapid spread of coronavirus, KFC has pressed pause on a series of ads designed to spotlight the deeply satisfying post-KFC finger lick.

The Drum has learned that 163 people have complained to the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about the fast-food chain's unfortunately timed 'Finger Lickin' Good' campaign, which launched two weeks ago. 

In a statement, KFC confirmed it has now halted the nationwide marketing drive. 

“It doesn’t feel like the right time to be airing this campaign, so we’ve decided to pause it for now – but we’re really proud of it and look forward to bringing it back at a later date," a spokesperson for the brand told The Drum.

At the heart of the push was a TV spot set to Chopin’s Nocturne op.9 No.2 which showed a montage of diners licking some variation of KFC's 11 herbs and spices off their digits. The classical melody was punctuated by one final slurp on an index finger.

OOH ads and a content series on 'finger lickin’ etiquette' were also set to run over the next few months as part of the campaign from Mother London.

However, hundreds of people have already contacted the advertising watchdog, complaining that the ad was "irresponsible" and saying it encouraged behaviour that could increase the chance of Covid-19 (which was this week declared a 'pandemic' by the World Health Organisation) spreading. 

The Drum understands that the ASA is currently assessing the complaints and no investigation has been launched at this stage. 

 
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This is far from the brand's first brush with the advertising watchdog. Famed for its irreverent creative work, KFC took the crown for the most complained about ad of 2017 with 'The Full Chicken'. 

The spot, which showed a chicken dancing and sashaying around a barn to X Gon’ Give It To Ya by DMX in the style of a 90s rap music video, provoked outrage on the basis it was "distressing" and "disrespectful". It attracted 755 complaints from the public, but the ASA ultimately decided there were no grounds to investigate it, less ban it. 

Late last year, the chicken shop was given a roasting from the regulator for alluding to the word 'fuck' in a print campaign running under the tagline: 'What the Cluck?'.

The latest outrage over KFC's finger-licking rapture comes as concern around the spread of coronavirus mounts. At the time of writing, 126,631 cases of the disease had been confirmed with 4,638 deaths as a result. 

On Wednesday (11 March) Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram joined the coordinated response against the outbreak in the wake of a stark warning from the NHS that scaremongering and misinformation presented a risk to life.

The global health crisis is now having a ripple effect on the business and marketing community, with ad spend and client activity on pause for many

Brands — usually the first react and engage with newsworthy topics — have steered well clear of attaching themselves to the virus, despite the clear social good (and potential financial) incentives.