It may come as a surprise to many that Christmas is not complete in Japan without a bucket of KFC chicken. Just like us in the states, where we have strange holiday traditions like mall Santas and kissing under the mistletoe, the one percent of Japanese population who celebrate Christmas partake in a giant bucket of chicken from KFC. But like many traditions, we find ourselves asking, “How in the world did this tradition start?”
Supposedly, it all began with a non-Japanese consumer visiting Japan during the holidays. It was the winter of 1974 and this poor woman could not find a turkey to celebrate the holiday with. Her next best bet was to celebrate Christmas with KFC chicken. KFC had recently expanded to the Japanese market just four years earlier, and were having difficulty getting the Japanese market to embrace their friend chicken, which was perceived as a luxury product in the country.
KFC saw an opportunity to capitalize on the Japanese tendency to commercialize the holidays, where they already spent a lot of money on decorations, gifts, and celebrations. KFC decided to push hard and marry a special-occasion food with a special occasion holiday. Within the year, KFC ran its first Christmas campaign reading “Kentucky for Christmas!” featuring a chicken bucket and a bottle of wine holiday combo for the equivalent of $10.
KCF ran the same holiday promotion every year since its introduction in 1975. However, what really put KFC on the holiday feast map was their launch of the Christmas Party Bucket in 1985. The bucket features three layers of tasty treats: chicken, salad, and ice cream. According to the advertisements, “With this Christmas Party Bucket alone, you can hold a luxurious party.”
KFC sees a 50 percent sales boost in Japan each December as a result of the holiday promotions. People literally line up around the block to get the tri-tiered buckets. KFC even takes orders up to two months in advance for the special buckets.
KFC successfully leveraged the Japanese people’s sense of nostalgia and tradition by creating a holiday tradition with perfectly timed and executed marketing. There is a short list of brands that have successfully aligned themselves with a holiday for decades to come. At the top of the list is Coca-Cola with their successful implementation of modern day red and white Santa Clause. The list is quickly followed by KFC’s 40-year stint as Japan’s go-to Christmas meal.