IDEAS: Nando’s topical campaign story

Edward Ong is on a quest to discover and create Malaysia’s best ideas. He is an award-winning Writer and Creative Director and can be found at

Nando’s. The brand that launched a thousand conversations on Facebook, commenting on everything from competitors, celebrities, sporting events, elections, internet trolls, tv shows and more.
Some of you would probably be able to quote one or two ads. When Lee Chong Wei failed to clinch an important title, the work came out within hours: “Dato, you brought 28 million Malaysians together. That’s gold.”
It was a defining moment for Malaysian pop culture. To find how it all started, I got in touch with the creative minds behind the work – Sa’ad Hussein and Joseph Anthony, former ECD and CD at Creative Juice Malaysia. This is the story of the work that led to Nando’s topical social media campaign.
“Sil Ad (before it became Creative Juice) won the account in 2001,” says Sa’ad. I reached out and congratulated him. A small shop winning a major fast food account is pretty impressive. What great work came out of the hatchery then, I asked.
“Nothing. We lost it after two months. Happily, we got it back 10 years later.”
Mentally, I make a note to associate ‘Persistency’ or maybe ‘Slow and lackadaisical’ with this man. I can’t decide which one.
“Second time’s a charm,” says Joseph. “Every brand wants to connect with their audience. We wanted to do more than that. We wanted to revolutionise the F&B category with controversial, tongue-in-cheek and witty campaigns focusing on local and topical insights.”
“How can we make a South African brand relevant to everyday Malaysians?” Joseph rubs his chin.
“The rakyat, myself included, can probably only remember one or two things about South Africa: Nelson Mandela and apartheid. Maybe that rugby film with Matt Damon.”
“To reinforce the South African-ness of the brand, we created a South African general,” explains Sa’ad. “His name was General Kenako.” Uh, short for ‘kena korang’? “No, I think it means break free in Afrikaans. That was so many years ago.”
“General Kenako had one job,” enthuses Joseph. “To start a peri-volution in Malaysia. After all, too many Malaysians have suffered the bland and the unhealthy for far too long. We did a whole campaign. One print ad read: ‘Our General can beat your Colonel’.” Of course. What could possibly go wrong? “The campaign was yanked within 3 months. It was short-lived but very successful. We also learnt one thing: Keep it local.”
“Rejections make us stronger. And want to fight harder!” I could almost see Sa’ad waving his fist in the air. “Following this, the client asked us to do a billboard campaign across Malaysia.”
“We were convinced that being local and being Malaysian is key. To that end, we had billboards with many different lines- each specially written for audiences in the billboard’s location.”
“The one on Federal highway read, ‘No Speeding. Peri-Peri Chicken is best enjoyed slow’. In Petaling Street, a place famous for imitation goods, we had ‘Peri-Peri Chicken. The only thing you can’t fake in Petaling Street’.”
“But our most famous billboard,” says Joseph, “Is the one in Jalan Bukit Bintang: ‘Di sini banyak ayam.’ I guess those who knew what it meant gave it a nod and a wink.”
“‘Di sini banyak ayam’ was rejected many times,” says Sa’ad. “We kept pushing and pushing until the clients finally relented. I think they just got fed up with us.”
“In 2012, a piece of news was making the rounds on social media- an employee from a fast food restaurant had a disagreement with a customer which escalated into physical assault,” says Joseph. “This led to our first online topical ad, ‘We’re good at punchlines, not punches’.”
“The work went up around lunchtime. Within an hour, the brand had become an online sensation. Nando’s fan base soared as more and more people liked the post. More importantly, people were crowding at the restaurants. I remember friends telling me they couldn’t even get a table!”
“Social media was all the rage then,” says Sa’ad. “For the next 4 years we hijacked topical news- local and foreign. Other brands started to follow what Nando’s was doing. And every time new business came to our office, clients would say, “We love what you did for Nando’s. Can you make us like Nando’s?”
Touch the heart and you satisfy the stomach. The rest, as they say, is written in social media history.

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