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Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…

…a coupon for a chicken sandwich?!

In honor of the launch of the Artemis I mission to the moon overnight, it seems a good time to look back at one of the most creative, space-themed, coupon-related promotions that unfortunately turned out to be a flop.

It was five years ago this summer when the fast food chain KFC partnered with near-space exploration company World View to launch a Zinger spicy chicken sandwich into the stratosphere. In the process, KFC fans were promised, if you watched really closely – and were very, very, very lucky – you might be able to score a coupon for a chicken sandwich of your own.

The chances were pretty small to begin with, though, and they ultimately turned out to be nonexistent – which proved to be an unfortunate omen for the sandwich itself.

World View’s Stratollite high-altitude balloon craft launched from a remote site outside Tucson, Arizona in June 2017, taking its unusual payload along for the ride. And “every day the Zinger chicken sandwich is in space, it will beam down unique events and surprises – one of those being a single Zinger coupon drop,” KFC spokesperson Kasey Mathes Ryan told Coupons in the News at the time.

So the plan was for a Zinger coupon to descend to Earth from 80,000 feet up. Where would it land? Would anyone find it? Would it expire before anyone did?

Unfortunately, the mission came to an end long before we were able to find out. A small leak in the altitude control balloon system caused the Zinger’s flight to be cut from four days to just 17 hours. So the planned coupon drop never happened.

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It may have been just as well, though, since the coupon didn’t offer a free Zinger or even a deeply-discounted one. The coupon drop on Day 3 of the mission was meant to “include a single 5-cent coupon on a tiny Zinger parachute that will have a GPS tracker on it,” Ryan said.

5 cents? KFC didn’t say what the significance of the unusual value was. But it was in keeping with the cheeky tone of the event itself.

The goal of the mission, KFC said, was to “push the boundaries of space exploration and fried chicken technology.” The actual goal of the mission was to further test the feasibility of World View’s stratospheric “space balloons”. The balloons are like stationary satellites – instead of blasting into space and orbiting the Earth, they go straight up, about 80,000 feet above the Earth’s surface. That allows them to provide a very similar overhead view to that of a satellite, at a fraction of the cost. Soon, World View hopes, the balloons will also be able to take tourists for the ride of their lives.

So you might think of the Zinger as an early test pilot – trying out the trip to see if it survived, so you don’t have to.

Of course, the real goal of the KFC-World View partnership was a lot of free publicity, for both companies. World View said it was approached by KFC’s ad agency to help launch (literally) its new spicy Zinger chicken sandwich. “World View saw this as a great opportunity to publicly demonstrate the Stratollite’s capabilities to a mass public audience, while simultaneously financing a portion of the vehicle’s development program,” the company announced dryly.

KFC took a more tongue-in-cheek approach in its own announcement of the partnership. “We’re excited to be the ones pushing spicy, crispy chicken sandwich space travel forward,” KFC U.S. President Kevin Hochman said.

In the annals of unusual KFC coupons, this one was more audacious than the “billboard coupon” that a KFC franchisee in South Carolina put up several years earlier. “Bring in this billboard for a free KFC bucket,” it read, confounding passersby who wondered if it was real or just a joke. But when the sign blew off in a storm, a couple found it and did just as the “coupon” instructed – they brought it to KFC and got their free chicken.

As for the KFC Zinger promotion, “in some ways, it’s sort of funny – we’re flying a chicken sandwich,” World View Chief Technology Officer Taber MacCallum said. “But on the other hand, it’s one of the world’s largest companies trusting the launch of a new product to our maiden voyage flight. I mean, that’s a big deal.”

World View and KFC certainly hoped it would be, even though it didn’t turn out exactly as planned. World View is currently taking reservations for flights, which it hopes to begin in 2024. The Zinger, however, was just as much of a dud as the promotion itself – the sandwich, which is popular overseas, never caught on in the U.S. and is no longer available.

So here’s hoping World View has greater success with its Stratollite than KFC did with its Zinger. And those working on the Artemis program hope to have a successful mission as well – even without coupons.

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