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Nando’s unleashes anti-secrecy bill #BlackTuesday campaign

South African fast food chicken outlet, Nando’s, has come out yet again with a viral ad attempting to cash in on the latest big news topic. This latest one, cottoning onto the Black Tuesday campaign against the Protection of State Information Bill (referred to as the “secrecy bill”), may leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths — or at least the metallic hint of mercenary opportunism.

This ad, like the many others preceding it — the last one Memeburn reported on was published just after the the sentencing of Julius Malema — is nothing more than a quick quip in large text, and a longer blurb in smaller text. Normally a clever sting in the tale, now a clumsy bait and switch. “Ha ha”, it says, “You thought we’d drop the other one with a clever observation, but no, we just want to punt flame-grilled chicken!”

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A more recent attempt, following the botched singing of the South African national anthem by Ard Matthews, was featured in a Memeburn piece on how viral marketing is about increasing positive brand presence by Jonathan Houston. It got kudos there.

The “Secrecy Bill” ad shows in painful relief the fine line between clever and smart-arse.

In the new ad’s creative, the primary “quip” text is blacked out. OK, we can work with that… The longer text below is a different matter. It is a message to journalists which reads:

The humour falls flat. That’s neither clever, nor witty, nor apposite.

In the face of this bill being something that may begin to unravel South Africa’s hard fought, won, and built democracy — which leading activists from Zackie Achmat to Zapiro have slated in the strongest terms possible — using this issue to sell chicken is risky. Even if only “tongue-in-cheek,” it could come off as crass, cheap and opportunistic.

Guess which side of the line Nando’s landed on.

Brands can and should latch on to topical issues, through social media or otherwise. Another leading South African brand, retail giant Pick ‘n Pay has been deft online.

On Facebook, the company changed its profile picture to its logo in black on a black background with the Twitter hashtag for the protests, #BlackTuesday. On Twitter it made similar changes to its page.

On both platforms it posted messages expressing support for the #BlackTuesday movement followed by a link to a statement from its General Manager, Gareth Ackerman.

Whilst Ackerman is almost certainly sincere in his opinions on the matter, as it may be with Nandos, this activity is clearly a social marketing campaign. Done well, it’s a win. Done badly. Ewwwwwwwww.

So what’s the difference between the two?

Instead of trying to sneak a mention for the “latest savings available at their stores”, Pick ‘n Pay realised the gravitas of the situation and treated it appropriately.

Nando’s has carved a niche in South Africans minds as the “funny” brand that’s not shy to take on sacred cows (sorry, chickens), and would want to protect that image. In a highly unscientific poll, all agreed that without the text exhorting journalists — many of whom are right now promising even to go to jail in protest of this bill — to write about chicken, the ad would have been perfectly fine.

The key to getting viral social media marketing using news stories right — just as with chicken — is getting the temperature right. Nando’s ad was way undercooked.

The bill was passed by parliament, and now journalists will be loath to write about state secrets, or flame-grilled chicken.

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