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How Nando’s became a victim of its own tactical advertising success

Nobody does tactical advertising better than Nando’s. Over the years, the fast food chicken franchise established a reputation for putting out sharp, witty and timely online ads in response to current events. Before the days of Facebook and Twitter, it relied on print; now its ads are distributed via social media, rapidly going viral.

It works incredibly well for it, so much so that it’s almost become a form of “prevertising”. The moment there’s a big news event, people think: where’s the Nando’s ad? It’s colonised our minds to a point where in a sense, we advertise for it even when it doesn’t put out an ad itself. It’s a strategy a lot of others would love to replicate.

But sometimes you can be a victim of your own success, as last week’s frenzy around the news about Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp revealed. Because it’s so easy to create an ad that sort of looks like Nando’s, and the formula — which typically involves puns relating to chicken and peri-peri — is so well-established, it’s easy to make an ad that looks like it’s from Nando’s, but isn’t.

That’s what happened when an ad appeared on Friday. “We don’t shoot our chicks,” read the copy. “We flame grill them.”

The moment I saw it, I knew it was a fake. As with the “Fando’s” ad that was distributed in the wake of the FNB You Can Help debacle, I knew there was no chance that the team behind Nando’s would put out something so tasteless (no pun intended). As executive creative director Ahmed Tilley of Nando’s ad agency Black River FC explained to me last year, the company’s actually pretty selective about what it chooses to respond to. That’s because it needs to maintain standards, and not every event is appropriate satire material.

To me the ad was obviously fake, but many were taken in. While some people responded favorably — “Give Nando’s a Bell’s” was one of the many responses I saw — many were incensed.

Nando's tweets

Feeling that I should do my bit to help out one of my favourite brands and the team behind it, I tweeted: “If you see an Oscar Nando’s ad, it’s fake. I know the guys behind the brand and they’d never do something so tasteless.” This was retweeted 163 times, a record for me. It speaks to the high level of interest in Oscar Pistorius and the ad, and to the widespread assumption that it was real.

Later Nando’s put out an official statement distancing itself from the ad, but by then a lot of damage had been done.

There’s not much Nando’s can do to prevent this kind of thing happening again. Besides addressing fake ads when they appear, the best approach for it would be to establish a clear pattern of what it will make fun of and what not, and gradually educate the public to make a distinction between a fong kong Nando’s ad and the genuine article.

Image: Krista via Wikipedia.

  • While Nando’s should be lauded for occupying the ‘prevertising’ space, it is often problematic for a myriad of reasons (as outlined in your piece). One of the reasons is expectations, and once you start playing in this realm, there is increased pressure to keep performing (Nando’s has risen to the challenge on many occasions) but at what point will our expectations overtake creative execution.

    The Oscar situation has gripped the country and is perhaps, the first transcendent local celebrity scandal. I am glad that brands have not shamelessly exploited it with posts like ‘If we get a 100 Retweets for #Reeva we will have half price pizza tuesdays’ or some nonsense like that.

  • Katjie

    STD – your name is apt – you are a disease.

  • Seriously Memeburn? I make a relevant comment that contains a link and it gets deleted quickly, but you leave troll comments up?

  • I’m not sure I agree, being popular can often bring this kind of attention regardless of what you are popular for. Just because a few people initially mistook it for a real Nando’s ad they will undoubtedly soon be corrected and all that will have happened is that there were people discussing Nandos without them having to spend a cent on advertising, still a win for them.

  • Memeburn

    We’ve deleted the comment from our side and it should reflect here soon.

    We apologise if we accidentally deleted a relevant comment you’ve left before — but we can’t find any record of you commenting previously with these login details. Could you let us know which comment / article you’re referring to?

  • Thanks for the reply to the rant :-) Not sure where it went then. It registered on my side, so maybe it was a problem with Disqus.

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