Nando’s: The Craziest Restaurant In Marketing

I’m posting this blog on both my Advertising and Branding Module Blog and on this blog, because as of this past week and Gordon’s most recent brief it turns out there’s a fair bit of crossover now between my modules. It’s a nice reminder of how relevant Jonathan’s module is, and how it can be applied to other modules I’m working on. So here goes.


If the restaurant market were one big dinner party it seems that Nando’s is the drunk guest at the table. Whilst many assume cut from the same cloth as other family restaurants such as Pizza Hut it’s far from cashing in for an ice-cream factory yet. Pizza Hut commercials feature smiling families, chuckling abnormal amounts about Dad getting the biggest pizza, or the son stealing slices off of other peoples plates, the greedy slob. But the point is it’s a family restaurant, family ideals, family imagery- it’s all very neutral and friendly. Nando’s haven’t only buckled that trend, they’ve practically set it on fire.

But it works. Nando’s have their roots firmly set in the UK now, with the latest chain opening in Dundee mere weeks ago, much to the excitement of many locals (though to be fair not much happens in Dundee). Nando’s seemingly don’t need to please the Pizza Hut portrayed family. Instead their targeted demographic is that of a younger audience, students, recent graduates and successful younger professionals are all the audience Nando’s needs. Consequently their marketing follows the care-free and sometimes mad attitudes of that age group, as pointed out by a Ad-Age, who describe Nando’s as having a “consistent identity of cheekiness“. Whilst the company as a whole is gigantic it’s regional chiefs are told to maintain a sense of irony and humour in their marketing, often playing off of current events to stay ahead of the curve. Take, for example, their last Christmas advertisement. Ignoring some poor execution presenting the food almost like a KFC meal the ad nailed the Nando’s attitude. In the commercial their lead character was not a family of smiling models but rather a Robert Mugabe impersonator.

Nando’s clearly aren’t appealing to parents wanting to take their kids out for a quiet get-together. The placement of these adverts is important to note too. Spotify was a prime location for many of Nando’s advertisements about a year ago. Considering the age category must using Spotify this correlates nicely with the idea that Nando’s are aiming to appeal to students.

And this focus acts as a benefit to them, rather than the likes of Pizza Hut, aiming to appeal to everybody all at once. Marty Neumeier, in his book The Brand Gap underlines that focus is the most important asset in marketing. To specialise branding to specific groups is far more powerful than aiming at every all at the same time. It’s like trying to knock a line of people down with a powerhose. Aim too wide and nobody’s falling over. Detractors have claimed that Nando’s is in fact not focused at all, stuck in a no-man’s land between the fast food giants and classic family-restaurants. But they have a greater sense of personality than most major restaurant chains, and its gained them a devoted following, the most coveted achievement in marketing.
And frankly a lot of that is down to their sense of fun.

Fun within advertising is something many companies are only just cottoning on to. It doesn’t have to be giving people little badges or stickers if they come to your restaurant so many times, but it can be a way of personalising the experience delivered to a customer. All of this adds up to gamification, an increasingly popular concept thanks to campaigns like Volkswagen’s ‘Fun Theory’, which saw turning mundane objects, such as bottle recycling centres, bins and stairs into games. However the issue with translating this theory is that bins and stairs are boring, unassuming objects. Restaurants are already shouting for attention, through every billboard and TV commercial. So can fun make you stand out from the crowd?

It could be this sense of fun is exactly what is needed in the dining market. After the relentless onslaught of food being branded as healthy, free-range, fairtrade,  organic, pure, fresh and every other ethically driven motivator under the sun then the market has become almost too gloomy and serious. So if a new restaurant were to penetrate the market it may require something more than just the usual tags expected to attract people to food. Nando’s have been forced to find an alternative to these labels, due to the nature of their food and in the end its been the South African chain’s saving grace.

Whilst Jamie Oliver’s restaurants are obviously very successful it’s not his restaurants people crave and fend off temptation for – it’s McDonalds, and KFC, it’s Cadbury’s and Marble Slab, it’s Dominoes and Nando’s. The only remaining issue with Nando’s is laid bare at the end of the TV commercial – they are, in part, victims of Neumeier’s Brand Gap. The theory is there but the execution is lacking in some respects. Many restaurants achieve the very opposite.

As any creative in advertising and branding worth their salt knows it’s far more than charming aesthetics that draw people into a business. Good art direction is what makes a passable, yet that alone would leave it barely functional. A distinct visual identity married with overall tone in marketing it what it will take to create that irreplaceable personality that could see Nando’s not only taking the top spot in evening dining, but owning it.

Listening to: We Drift Like Worried Fire by Godspeed You! Black Emperor


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