3 Ways to Avoid a Debacle Like KFC’s Kristallnacht in 2023

March 9, 2023 (Updated) | By Sam Pelton
Chicken from KFC representing the Kristallnacht incident


Also known as “Night of Broken Glass.”

It describes a massacre and tragedy in Germany that preceded the Holocaust.

On November 9, 1938, a Nazi paramilitary group killed 91 Jewish people. Buildings destroyed. Businesses looted.

And it was on the 2022 memorial of this tragic day that Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in Germany sent out the following notification on its mobile app:

“It's memorial day for Kristallnacht! Treat yourself with more tender cheese on your crispy chicken. Now at KFCheese!"

Obviously, this tasteless message was an error, or a misunderstanding, or something.

But how did it happen to such a well-known and well-loved business chain?

And how can you prevent such an embarrassing misfire from happening to you?

Here we’ll discuss 3 lessons and action items we can learn from KFC’s mistake.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid of Automation… BUT BE CAREFUL

Anyone working in a business knows that automation is powerful and beneficial.

For example, one survey found that 97% of enterprise IT decision makers agree that “process automation” is vital.

As another example, companies that use marketing automation have 53% higher conversion rates than companies that don’t, according to Moz.

Automation allows you to reap the benefits of business activities (such as text marketing) without having to manually do all the work. It frees up time and resources so that you can “set it and forget it” and focus on other ways to grow your business.

Through automation, your business has the bandwidth to do so much more than you could ever do without it.

And sometimes automation can actually cut back on mistakes, because there isn’t the element of human error. (See Forbes’ list of 4 ways automation within IT can help reduce human error for some illustrations of this concept.)

So we shouldn’t be afraid of automation.


There is a danger with automation.

It’s a two-edged sword - Since automation isn’t manually handled by a human being, in some ways it leads to fewer mistakes. BUT, in other ways, automation actually opens the door for needless errors.

Since automation doesn’t have the “human judgment” element, errors can happen that a simple human review could have prevented.

Errors like the Kristallnacht fiasco.

So when implementing automation processes, you must be extremely careful that your automations won’t lead to mistakes.

How? We’ll go over the answer to that a bit more in the next point.

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  1. Nail Down Your Internal Processes

KFC says that their mistake occurred somewhere within their internal review processes.

They apparently use bots to help generate app notifications based on national observances - and some messaging passed through to their customers that shouldn’t have been approved.

So it seems the “human judgment” element we discussed in the previous point didn’t fully make it into the equation. (Either that, or someone made a seriously bad judgment call.)

The point is… something broke down within the process.

The question then becomes - how can you nail down your own internal processes, to make sure mistakes like this don’t happen?

First, make sure you actually have a fail-safe process to monitor your automations.

Depending on what type of automation you’re doing and what kind of business you’re a part of, this will look different from situation to situation.

Perhaps this means you have someone (or a team of people) as the designated “content” person, who does last-minute checks on all automated messages before they go out.

Or perhaps it means you don’t use bots for certain tasks.

Whatever your situation, make sure you have some kind of internal process for your relevant automations to get some kind of human review… that way, you can avoid needless awkwardness and embarrassment.

And it’s best if this process is documented, particularly if your team is large - or at least, make sure everyone is in the know and aware of their role within the process.

Be open to feedback from everyone involved about the best ways to go about your process.

You’ll tweak and refine your process as you go along and you may have to do some trial and error to figure out what works best. And that’s OK!

Just don’t let flawed processes result in big errors.

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  1. Be More Intentional About Your Campaigns

A debacle like the Kristallnacht example may have been avoided if the marketing team had been a bit more intentional about their campaigns. (Although we admittedly don’t know all the details of what was going on behind the scenes.)

Rather than relying so heavily on bots to create campaigns for every special occasion on a calendar... it may be better for your marketing team to develop a more clear-cut plan for what campaigns you’ll pursue.

Obviously, major holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day are treasure troves for promotional content.

But not every special day warrants a campaign.

Lay out a plan based on what you think will connect and resonate with your audience, and based on what makes sense for your business and context.

For example, if you work for a bakery, you may want to run a promotion on National Cake Day (which is November 26th in the United States, by the way). But you may think twice before running a campaign for National Dentist’s Day (March 6th).

Or using our business Mobile Text Alerts (a platform to send text messages) as an example… We could send out a message on National Phone Day (April 25th). But it probably wouldn’t make sense to get in political hot water by pushing Columbus Day / Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

And bringing it back to the Kristallnacht experience… if any company is going to commemorate a tragic event in history, such as Kristallnacht in Germany or 9/11 in the US, you’ll need to do it with a lot of tact and respect.

Conclusion: Learn from Mistakes

We all make mistakes… even businesses like KFC.

True, some mistakes are more cringe-worthy than others.

But the important thing is that we learn from our mistakes, and from the mistakes of others.

So look at the Kristallnacht fiasco as a learning experience, not only for KFC but for your own business.

And think about how you can make your own automation process as intentional and error-free as possible.

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