Present in 24 countries on 5 continents, fast-casual restaurant chain Nando’s is known for its flame-grilled chicken coated in Portuguese peri-peri, a hot sauce made with malagueta peppers. But peri-peri supporters might find Nando’s latest offering even spicier than his “Extra Hot” marinade: an ad campaign that pokes fun at people who refuse to get a COVID-19 shot.
The campaign, which launched this week, is designed to encourage downloads of a recently updated pre-order app for North American customers. But the ads employ an unusual parallel-universe-type strategy: the actors play the roles of people refusing to download the app due to unknown side effects and perceived infringements of their freedom, mockingly mimicking attitudes adopted by anti vaxxers COVID. Nando’s says the campaign is part of a history of political posturing, which has often been purposefully controversial. But he also says part of the goal is to encourage more people to get vaccinated.
The video spots, which will be broadcast on digital channels and social networks, are based on various theories of viral disinformation and conspiracy. In one place, a woman chants: “My phone, my choice”, echoing the pro-choice slogan “my body, my choice”; she later said, “I absolutely don’t want my phone implanted with 5G,” referring to the conspiracy theory that COVID vaccines contain 5G magnetic tracking (they don’t) — and adding that “ only sheep eat free stuff from an app.”
In another video, a young couple discuss the side effects, fearing the apps could make the man impotent. They refer to “a social media expert” who says they don’t need the app, a reference to people doing their “own research”. And, repeating a commonly heard phrase, they say, “Free things infringe on my freedom.
The campaign aims to join the discourse on one of the most pressing social issues of our time, says Sepanta Bagherpour, the company’s brand director for North America, by drawing humorous parallels between “disbelief as to the benefits of vaccination and the benefits of the application. At the end of the commercials, viewers see the tagline: “Don’t be an anti-apper.” Download the Nando app. It’s good for you.” The recently updated app helps customers skip the lines when ordering and earn shopping points for free items.
This isn’t the first time Nando’s has tackled sensitive social issues in the US market. Bagherpour says the voice reflects the values of the company and the people who work there (called Nandocas), namely “inclusiveness and love of your neighbour”. He says the election of Donald Trump and the surrounding rise in racist rhetoric has spurred some of this work. On Inauguration Day 2017, Nando’s distributed posters in Washington, D.C., locations adorned with hearts and the hashtag #everybodyiswelcome.
He says such campaigns were popular with fans, who appreciated the company for taking a stand. Many companies have recently engaged in political brand activism. Dick’s Sporting Goods called for gun reform; Chobani defends refugees; and Nike ran an ad featuring outspoken former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, prompting some irate customers to burn their sneakers.
But the derisive tone here seems different from previous campaigns — more exclusive than inclusive — especially at a time when it’s crucial to keep pushing up vaccination rates. Although the ad itself uses the words “skewer” and “mock”, Bagherpour says, “We’re not aiming to wave the finger at people who have been victims of misinformation or who have been manipulated into not believing the science that essentially saves people’s lives.”
Additionally, Bagherpour says one of the main drivers of the campaign is to get more people vaccinated, which again is surprising given that studies have shown that the best way to convince the vaccine hesitant is with humility, rather than minimizing them. Bagherpour points out that increasing the rate of fire is especially important for a restaurant business, given how restaurant services have been impacted during the pandemic. “The more people get vaccinated, the less the reflex will be to shut down completely or apply measures,” he says.
The backlash is always a risk, but the company isn’t too worried; In the United States, Nando branches are located primarily in urban and politically liberal cities, particularly DC and Chicago, which have full vaccination rates of 73% and 69%, respectively, numbers that both cities still want. to augment.
Nando’s has been the subject of controversy before. After pressure, the company finally released a 2011 ad that mocked Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe as “the last dictator standing” as he ate alone at a table, remembered doing karaoke with Chairman Mao and making sand angels with Saddam Hussein. Bagherpour says the provocative branding stems from Nando’s story. The company began as South Africa emerged from apartheid and became one of the first brands to voice support for racial equality.
“We owe it to ourselves and where we come from to continue this legacy of taking a stand on certain social issues,” he says.