Is Nando’s ‘Last Dictator Standing’ the new ‘Old Spice Guy’?

I’ve been watching the Nando’s Meal for 6 campaign with interest ever since it broke. The wickedly funny ad featuring Robert Mugabe and his happy memories of good times with fellow dictators (including PW Botha) is racking up the kind of international attention unheard of for South African ad campaigns. Already it appears to enjoy the kind of cult appeal typically associated with the Old Spice campaigns of this world.

This is one of the best examples I’ve seen yet of a social media campaign built around a specific piece of content, specifically a TV ad. Here’s why — from my point of view — it works so well.

Great content:
The best web campaigns are built around great content — usually video and almost always the kind of material that gets people laughing. That was why the Old Spice campaign became such a hit, and it’s at the root of the success of the Nando’s campaign too. Put another way: if the ad was bog standard boring, nobody would want to pass it on.

At the time of writing, the “Last Dictator Standing” ad has been viewed over 400 000 times on YouTube. It’s one of those rare ads that’s both laugh out loud funny and deeply resonant in a year in which we have seen so many dictators tumble, latter-day Humpty Dumpties, from their walls (with one notable exception, of course). This appeal to international politics means that it has global appeal, which is why Time, Huffington Post and BoingBoing have blogged about it. This is also why another successful viral South African ad from this year, the Loerie awards ad with Riaan Cruywagen, could never have enjoyed the same global appeal: it was too culturally specific. (The Nando’s ad survives multiple viewings too: every time I watch it, I spot something new.)

Simple concept:
The website, executed by Retroviral Digital Communications, is very simple. You watch the ad and the copy tells you how to enter the competition. Cleverly, the company has used Twitter as the entry mechanism — all you need to do is tweet #Mealfor6 and the guests you’d like to invite and you’re eligible. “Too many digital guys overcomplicate mechanics,” says Retroviral’s Mike Sharman. Twitter, he says, suited the format of the promotion and supported the business objectives of the campaign. The promotion ends on 2 December, so it’s short and sweet and focused, with less chance of audiences getting bored and moving on.

The bottom line
This isn’t a brand ad to raise awareness, it’s essentially a product and price ad aimed at driving feet into store. Nando’s has always managed to marry penetrating social observation and a strong call to action. There were big question marks about whether the Old Spice campaign actually increased product sales, but it’s hard to imagine that this ad won’t show results for Nando’s (“Great spike in sales” tweeted Black River FC’s Ahmed Tilly in response to my question). Sales often get forgotten in the hype around ads we love, so this is a big plus in the campaign’s favour. And all the PR hype means Nando’s will be getting great bang for their advertising buck.

Clever seeding
The campaign was given the best chance of success by seeding it with a range of bloggers and influencers on the day it broke, with 50 coordinated drops in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. On the afternoon the ad flighted I got a mail with a link to the site, while Sharman and “Uncle Bob” personally delivered my meal voucher and chilli-shaped USB stick. I even got to shake Uncle Bob’s hand.

You can’t force a campaign to go viral — people either like what they see and want to pass it on, or they don’t — but you can give it every possible chance.

So, great content + simple execution + link to sales + clever seeding = a superb campaign, probably the best one South Africa’s seen to date. In fact, it’s hard to think of a campaign that better demonstrates what the advertising panel discussed during a conference called The Smartest Event on the Thursday morning before the campaign broke. Online, good content makes all the difference. Nando’s was one of the brands I mentioned as an example of a business that did not shy away from politics on Black Tuesday — so it was good to see it do what it does best on the very same day. At a time when everyone seems to be mired in gloom, it’s refreshing to see an ad that takes on a controversial subject and gets us to laugh.

Whatever your feelings about Nando’s peri-peri chicken (and anyone who has worked late on a pitch will have eaten Nando’s until it’s coming out of their ears), it is the South African advertiser with the longest and most consistent history of taking on political subjects and satirizing them in 30 seconds. It did go through a lean patch in the 2000s but it seems to have its mojo back, and once again we’re seeing ads that live up to the standards set with “Tailgunner” and the guide dog who walked his owner into a pole. If those ads had been flighted now, they’d have been linked to a social media drive like this one, posted on YouTube and spread around the world.

So, in a funny way, if the Nando’s Meal for 6 campaign demonstrates anything, it’s that social media is the best thing ever to happen to the 30 second TV ad. “It’s been amazing to watch,” says Retroviral’s Mel Attree. “The spread has been amazing to watch, but we have great content to work with — it makes our job so much easier.”



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