Johannesberg-based fast food chain Nando's is known for two things: its spicy peri-peri chicken and its racy commercials. AdAge has praised the company before for having "established a consistent identity of cheekiness" with its irreverent takes on up-to-the-minute political topics in its TV commercials and billboards. But the chain's newest series of ads, collectively called "Last Dictator Standing," are so extreme in their irreverence that some are saying that Nando's has finally gone too far.
The new ads, directed by Dean Blumberg, star a Robert Mugabe lookalike; they open with Mugabe forlornly setting a fancy dinner table for a group of now-deceased dictators, whom the ad imagines to be his great friends.
The commercial quickly cuts to Mugabe's dream, in which Mugabe runs around idyllic landscapes with each of his dictator friends as Mary Hopkins' "Those Were The Days" plays in the background. Mugabe has a watergun fight with Muammar Gaddafi, makes sand angels with Saddam Hussein and sings karaoke with Chairman Mao. Evidently, the ad folks at Nando's decided that, once they'd crossed the rubicon of making light of murderous dictators, there would be no harm in indulging in a little casual ethnic stereotyping.
What's the point of all this? At the end, the ad cuts back to Mugabe, looking sad and solitary in his dining room, and a voiceover declares that, "This time of year, no one should have to eat alone," a nod to the fact that the deposition of Gaddafi made Mugabe the last notorious dictator ruling a country in the world. The ad concludes with its first mention of Nando's: an advertisement for its "Six Pack" meal, meant to be shared by six people.
The ad was released by the chain on Thanksgiving, according to the Daily Mail. It's already attracted wide notice -- though Foreign Policy sniffed that the selection was a little passe. "No Mubarak?", FP blogger Joshua Keating asked.
Nando's has restaurants in 35 countries, including the U.S., with one outpost in Washington, D.C.
UPDATE 11/29 5:21 pm:
So far, most of the people offended by the ad have been politically correct observers in Europe and American. But now, The Washington Post that one of the ad's targets is upset as well. A militant youth group supporting Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe has called "Last Dictator Standing" an affront to Zimbabwe's head of state, and is threatening a boycott unless Nando's pulls the ad. It's unclear whether the youth group's members buy enough peri-peri chicken to give the threat enough clout to make Nando's back down.
UPDATE 12/1 11:12 am:
According to the AFP, Nando's has decided to bow to the pressure and pull the "Last Dictator Standing" ad from the South African airwaves. The company cited violent threats against employees of Zimbabwe restaurants as a crucial favor in its decision. South Africa's Times Live notes that it is illegal to insult Mugabe inside Zimbabwe's borders.
Here's the commercial: