KFC reconsiders English-language marketing text after Archbishop criticism

KFC hot wings and fries (picture is illustrative).
KFC hot wings and fries (picture is illustrative). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Calls for fast food chain KFC to have in-restaurant text in Estonian have led to the company's franchisee in Estonia, Apollo Group, to consider pursuing translation options, according to daily Postimees.

The development followed soon after criticism of KFC by head of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELK) Archbishop Urmas Viilma - more specifically about its Kristiine Keskus branch, which recently switched to 24/7 opening hours - for having text in English inside the restaurant, which was not simultaneously provided in Estonian.

"Words from the restaurant's founder, Colonel Harland David Sanders, born 130 years ago, and 40 years after his death, adorned the walls of the KFC," the Archbishop wrote on his social media page Saturday.

Plenty of text in English, the little in Estonian is in familiar imperative

The first of these (see photos) referred to Sanders' dedication to providing a conistent product to customers even as the chain grew, Archbishop Viilma said, another singing the praises of the quality and taste of KFC's output.

The chain's famous slogan, "it's finger-lickin' good" also appears, inside the restaurant, but what was more concerning, the Archbishop wrote, was that while this was all in English, there seemed to be a paucity of information in Estonian, limited mostly to menus and a couple of signs in capital letters and in the (familiar) imperative mood: "Telli" ("order") and "Saa kätte" ("get it in your hands", or even more literally, "catch").

English-language signage in KFC Kristiine Keskus. Source: Archbishop Urmas Viilma/Social Media

Other signage which provides ordering information and not merely marketing copy include a "Free Refill" notice in a drinks' area.

"Ultimately I was bothered that KFC, a global fast food chain, may heve plenty of respect for its chicken, but the chain's owners do not respect our Estonian language and the Estonian people," the Archbishop continued.

"For instance, if an elderly relative of mine who does not understand English went to a KFC restaruant ... he or she will unfortunately be oblivious to both the customer and food values of KFC and its founder Colonel Sanders, nor will he or she be aware that if their soft drink runs out, they can go and refill it free of charge," he added.

English-language signage in KFC Kristiine Keskus. Source: Archbishop Urmas Viilma/Social Media

"It also occurred to me what people might think if, for example, billboards and posters in [Lithuanian-owned] Maxima supermarkets were all in Lithuanian. It would also be quite disturbing if only Latvian-speaking people could understand the texts representing the values ... of the popular Lido restaurant chain. At the same time, it might be quite fun to enter a showroom at a Korean car dealership and see the values ​​of the car company presented via posters in the Korean language."

The Archbishop rounded off noting KFC's English notices in the light of the likely speeches to be made on Monday, Ferbarury 24, Estonian Independence Day, calling for the need to protect and prserve Estonian culture, language and heritage.

"Despite the fact that KFC's crispy and spicy chicken wings taste great to many of us, and the two KFC restaurants already operating in Estonia are extremely popular, we must not tolerate a creeping disrespect for Estonian culture, our heritage and the Estonian language under the guise of said spicy, tasty chicken wings. Only the English texts on the walls of the KFC restaurant constitute this disrespect," Archbishop Viilma added.

Apollo Group says it is looking into complaint

The head of the EELK's words were taken on board very rapidly, with the entertainment congolmerate responsible for bringing KFC to Estonia, Apollo Group, issuing a statement on Sunday and pledging to have English-language promotional text in KFC restaurants translated and reposted in Estonian, if the English text is causing an issue; the group said it would do the same for the other two Baltic States.

English-language signage in KFC Kristiine Keskus. Source: Archbishop Urmas Viilma/Social Media

The ultimate decision comes down to the individual franchisee, but according to Postimees (link in Estonian), board chair at Apollo Jaanus Vihand said that: "At the same time, we take criticism very seriously and understand that promotional texts should really be in Estonian, plus in Latvian in Latvia, and in Lithuanian in Lithuania. We will be negotiating immediately with the franchise owner to enable us to make any changes to the restaurant's design."

English-language signage in KFC Kristiine Keskus. Source: Archbishop Urmas Viilma/Social Media

Apollo Group's owner is Margus Linnamäe, a businessman also behind the Magnum Medical pharmacy wholesaler and its associated Apotheka retail chain, and Postimees Grupp, publisher of daily Postimees and its regional variants, and other publications, radio and TV channels.

Apollo Group also runs the Apollo chain of bookstores, O'Leary's sports bars, and other entertainment concerns.

Archbishop thanks KFC franchisee for swift action

KFC opened in Estonia in October, initially at the Ülemiste shopping center in the southeast of Tallinn, with the Kristiine Keskus branch, west of the city center, following late in 2019. Branches are planned for Tartu and Narva later this year. KFC had already been active in the Lithuanian and Latvian markets, in the case reeopened more recently with a new franchisee, for several years.

Colonel Sanders' (1890-1980) title referred to his being made a Kentucky Colonel, an honor bestowed by the state of Kentucky on individuals in recognition of their accomplishments, which Sanders attained in 1950, and not a military rank.

Archbishop Urmas Viilma thanked Apollo for its swift response to the concerns, according to Postimees saying that: "My sincerest respect and appreciation for such a quick and constructive solution. I hope this will also set a good example to the many other global trade and catering chains which have entered the Estonian market and would have received hints over the past 24 hours over their care-free attitude toward the Estonian language. Many thanks to Apollo Group OÜ."

As reported on ERR News, another fast-food chain, Finnish restaurant Hesburger, received a complaint in December from the Language Inspectorate (Keeleinspektsioon) for similar activities, in this case backed up by a legal argument.

The Language Inspectorate told Hesburger that the company was in violation of the Language Act in having a visible "Drive-In" illuminated sign, without a translated version in Estonian.

Under section 16 (2) of the act, it is permissible for such businesses to have signage in English or another foreign language, but not at the expense of Estonian, which should be placed in a manner which makes it more visible than the other language, for instance by being above the other-language text, or in a larger font etc.

While the Language Inspectorate can issue fines for infringements, it says it rarely needs to do so.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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