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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.
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.