Federal regulators are looking at the validity of health claims made in advertisements for KFC's fried chicken, ads that the restaurant chain says are set to stop airing Friday.
A spokesman for the Federal Trade Commission confirmed Wednesday that the agency was reviewing a complaint by health advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest that calls the KFC ads deceptive and misleading.
It is the latest blow to a fast-food chain trying to fix disappointing sales and marketing messages that have failed to strike a chord with consumers. Sales at KFC, a unit of Yum Brands Inc., have fallen in 13 of the last 16 months and the company's management was recently overhauled.
The KFC television ads, which were touted in a news release last month titled "KFC sets the record straight," try to position fried chicken as a component of a balanced diet and as a healthier alternative to Burger King's Whopper sandwich.
The ads immediately provoked a backlash, with a scathing editorial from trade magazine Advertising Age and the complaint by the health advocacy group.
"Our ads simply set the record straight by providing consumers accurate information and facts about KFC's Original Recipe fried chicken and how it can be part of a balanced diet," KFC spokeswoman Bonnie Warschauer said. "However, we're not in a position to comment on FTC affairs."
As for plans to stop running the ads, Warschauer said, "Our ads routinely run for three to four weeks and these have been on air for nearly four weeks through this Friday. The new ads will begin airing the day after Thanksgiving, as planned, in the normal course of business."
The TV spots are the first to come out of KFC's new agency, Interpublic Group's Foote, Cone & Belding, which was hired in September to try to revitalize sales at the chain.
They also are the first spots to come out under the direction of KFC's new president, Gregg Dedrick, and its new marketing chief, Scott Bergren.
Yum Brands shares fell 37 cents to $32.75 on the New York Stock Exchange. The company also owns the Taco Bell and Pizza Hut restaurant chains.
One of the ads features a couple affirming their dedication to eating better -- as the woman sets down a bucket of fried chicken. The ad notes that two pieces of its chicken breasts have less fat than a Whopper. The other ad focuses on chicken as a low-carbohydrate, high-protein food.
Many companies are seeking ways to appeal to consumers' desire for healthier food -- and avoid liability for a growing obesity epidemic. McDonald's Corp., for example, has had success with healthier options.