- Restaurant chain Nando's is famous for testing boundaries with its advertising
- Its campaigns deal with politics, race and gender stereotypes in an amusing way
- 'Last Standing Dictator' ad was taken off air after staff in Zimbabwe received threats
Creating a viral ad isn't as easy as grilling spicy chicken, but restaurant chain Nando's seems to have found the recipe for success.
The South African group, which has hundreds of branches in some 30 countries, hit the headlines again in late November with an advert portraying Zimbabwe's notorious president Robert Mugabe cavorting with five fellow dictators.
The "Last Standing Dictator" ad uses look-alike actors to show Mugabe reminiscing merrier times with former iron-fist rulers that are now deceased, including Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Uganda's Idi Amin.
To the nostalgic sounds of "Those Were the Days" by Mary Hopkin, Mugabe remembers enjoying a water-fight with Gadhafi -- in which the Libyan former leader holds a trademark golden machine gun -- as well as re-enacting with Amin the famous romantic scene of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio's from "Titanic" on the back of an army vehicle.
The amusing advert captured the imagination of millions, says Quinton Cronje, managing director of Nando's.
"It was bigger than we ever anticipated," he says. "The whole thing of dictators over the year of 2011 was a global concept so it went really big -- bigger than any other ad in Africa has ever done virally."
The advert might got a huge reaction but the response in Zimbabwe wasn't so funny -- the restaurant chain had to pull the ad after staff in the country were threatened by Mugabe loyalists.
Nando's, famous for its piri-piri chicken, has a long history of testing boundaries with its advertising campaigns, which are often inspired by recent news events. Its radical approach has become integral to the development of the brand, says Cronje.
"Chicken is a commodity and we sex chicken up by talking about the brand intrinsics and we have always been about having an advertising strategy that is cutting edge. We like to say what people are generally thinking," says Cronje.
"We like to pick things that are -- people use the word controversy -- I don't say controversy, I'd say things that generate healthy debate," he adds.
Other adverts by the brand that created a stir include its campaign for the South Africa-held football World Cup in 2010 -- the company's entire promotional activity for the landmark event dealt in a humorous way with misconceptions that foreigners might have of South Africa, such as overseas visitors believing that "all South African men have more than one wife" or that "all African women walk around bare-breasted all the time."
"We were having an influx of foreigners visiting South Africa and we needed comment on it and we did it in a way that demonstrates the ignorance and the misconceptions that people have about our country," says Ahmed Tilly, executive creative director at Nando's advertising agency.
"It touched South Africans because they've traveled and they've been asked the question, 'do you have electricity in Africa, are there animals roaming the streets in Africa.' And we took that insight and basically made a campaign that was relevant to the World Cup," adds Tilly.
While the brand has not shied away from dealing with heated issues such as race and gender stereotypes in its campaigns, Tilly says that there are still some subjects that the company will not go anywhere near in its adverts.
"We try to stay away from religion as far as possible, only because it is so sensitive and it is not a defendable topic," he says.
Religion may be out of bounds for Nando's but the recent death of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il sparked an immediate branding opportunity for the company.
"When we heard that Kim in North Korea had died we generated a viral commercial that we got up in less than one hour and it was really to say, 'North Korea, it wasn't us. We are in to eradicating hunger rather than eradicating dictators,'" says Cronje.
This wasn't the first time the chain was quick enough to react in order to benefit from a major news event. And from the looks of it, it won't be the last.
Tilly says that pushing boundaries is becoming more and more important in today's highly-competitive advertising environment.
"I think all brands need to go there otherwise they are getting lost," he says.