Each year, KFC Japan makes millions of dollars during the Christmas season due to a tradition store manager Takeshi Okawara made popular in the 1970s.
Nearly half a century later, Okawara is now saying that the tradition of eating fried chicken on Christmas was all built on a lie.
KFC was reportedly not as popular as it is today when it first opened in Japan in 1970.
In an interview with Business Insider, Okawara noted how the maiden store’s red-and-white striped roof and the English signs confused many customers. Many were reportedly unsure “if the store was selling candy or cutting hair.”
Okawara said he made so little money that he ended up sleeping on flour bags in the back of the store.
At the time, Christmas was not a widely celebrated holiday in Japan as only less than 2% of the population is Christian.
According to Okawara, one day a nun at a nearby school asked him if he can help serve KFC’s fried chicken at a Christmas party.
Okawara agreed and joined the party wearing a Santa Claus costume, playing with the kids while carrying a bucket of fried chicken.
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Following the success of that party, another kindergarten class asked for a similar KFC-themed Christmas party.
Realizing the potential of the holiday-themed concept, Okawara doubled down on the idea and was soon putting Santa costumes on Colonel Sanders statues outside of KFC stores. He also began marketing fried chicken as a replacement to the American turkey Christmas dinner.
The campaign, which portrayed Colonel Sanders as a pseudo-Santa Claus figure, was called “Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii” which means “Kentucky for Christmas.”
Okawara narrated that after KFC’s Christmas became a massive hit, he was interviewed by national broadcaster NHK.
He now admits that he lied then when he was asked if fried chicken was actually a common Western Christmas tradition as his campaign was promoting it to be.
“I … know that the people are not eating chicken, they are eating turkey,” Okawara was quoted as saying in the podcast Household Name. “But I said yes. It was [a] lie. I still regret that. But people … like it.”
KFC Japan, through its parent company Yum Brands, has since disputed Okawara’s story, stating that it was a visiting foreigner who suggested that KFC start selling chicken on Christmas instead of the traditional turkey.
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Whether it’s all based on a lie or not, no one can argue that linking KFC to Christmas has made the chain a massive success in Japan.
Since KFC’s Christmas marketing went national in 1974, the campaign has been nothing but a success for the brand with sales continuing to make millions of dollars around Christmas.
Featured image via YouTube/chirikun