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For the last two years of the pandemic, brand marketing messages have predominantly focused on togetherness, safety and caution, only recently pivoting creative showing an in-person return to normal.

While many have steered clear of more brazen spots given the polarized nature of the pandemic, South African chicken restaurant Nando’s Peri-Peri has only emphasized it.

Earlier this month, Nando’s rolled out its Don’t be an Anti-Apper campaign, taking aim at Covid-19 “anti-vaxxers” to promote its new mobile app, drawing parallels between the benefits of the app and the benefits of the vaccine. The campaign includes in-store signage as well as both paid and organic posts across social media with ad copy like “My phone, my choice.”

“The campaign was born out of the want to encourage conversation around vaccination,” said Sepanta Bagherpour, Nando’s chief brand officer for North America, “because it affects our business and our sector profoundly, and of course, getting people to download the app.”

It’s a stark contrast to other brands’ advertising, which has toed the line of caution and lightheartedness. For example, Denny’s started sharing safety messages in light of the Delta variant. Prior to that, Alaska Airlines created a lighthearted spot to show how the airline was handling safety, per previous Digiday reporting.

For Nando’s, it’s about brand purpose, making it important to leverage marketing messaging to take a stand on social issues, even the highly polarized ones, Bagherpour said.

“We’re firmly behind vaccination because we’ve seen firsthand the impact vaccination has had in controlling, to a large degree, this very new, largely unknown pandemic,” he added. “And we wanted to have a say about it.” 

At present, most of Nando’s advertising lives mostly on digital channels with some recent testing into OTT and CTV, he added. It’s unclear exactly what that spend looks like as Bagherpour declined to offer further details. According to Kantar, Nando’s spent just over $4,000 on media in 2021, significantly less than the $31,000 spent in 2020. Those figures don’t include social spend as Kantar does not track those numbers.

While the marketing effort is still in its early days, it has gotten mixed reviews on social media, with some encouraging the efforts and others calling on the brand to separate itself from politics. However, Bagherpour said there has been an increase in app downloads and media coverage, adding that the brand expects to see an increase in sales along with the app downloads. He did not provide further details.

“We have found that our fans appreciate our honesty and authenticity,” Bagherpour said in an email. “Not all brands can successfully tread these waters, but speaking out has always been a part of who we are.”

Recently, brand purpose and values have become a bigger part of the conversation for marketers as shoppers now expect more from brands, especially in times of crisis, per previous Digiday reporting.

Whether it be Black Lives Matter, women’s rights or the pandemic, “honesty goes a really long way in the consumer’s mind,” said Kristin Molinari Cohen, chief marketing officer at cultural intelligence consultancy Sparks & Honey.

To build customer trust and brand loyalty, companies will need to take a stand on societal issues, she added. “If you are very clear on what your values are as an organization, you can so much more easily then look at what’s happening in culture and react to it based on those values,” Molinari Cohen said. 

The South African-bred restaurant chain has a long history of social satire, being born during the waning years of apartheid and creating ads around everything from government corruption to xenophobia. Here in the U.S., where the restaurant chain operates more than 40 locations around Virginia, Maryland, Washington and Chicago, Nando’s has been vocal about inclusivity during the inauguration of former President Trump.

The brand is keen on what Bagherpour calls “non-traditional tactics” that get people in the door. 

“Of course, there’s risk associated with it, but we believe that we owe it to where we’re from to carry on the proud heritage of social commentary because that gave us our grounding,”  Bagherpour said.

The post ‘Honesty goes a really long way’: Why Nando’s chicken is keen on social commentary ads appeared first on Digiday.