We are more robust than you imagine, and we are capable of laughing at the most challenging of subjects, writes Howard Feldman.
The reasons behind the profound success of the new Nando's advert are worth noting. Launched this week, the advert has nothing to do with chicken and everything to do with what it means to be a South African. It pokes fun at stereotypes, takes aim at everyone and shows that together, we are funnier.
The short video features a group playing "Mzansipoli" a fictional game that is loosely based on Monopoly. Participants are able to utilise "white privilege" to get out of jail time, play the "race card" when necessary and allows players the option as to whether to pay for their e-tolls. When it comes to Eskom it's clear that no one knows what is going on there.
It is social commentary at its best and provides lessons that politicians the world over should note.
Here are a few takeaways (if you will excuse the expression).
- We are less precious than one might think. We are more robust than you imagine, and we are capable of laughing at the most challenging of subjects. We might be serious about certain aspects of South African life, like white privilege and racial identity politics, but we are nuanced and smart enough to be able to still see the funny side of our stuff. We invented the Saxonwold Shebeen during the Gupta years, we laughed as Marilize as she gloriously and spectacularly steered her bike into a rugby post and to this day, the slow repetition of numbers, in any order, reduces us to laughter. Because that's how we coped with Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation Address. South Africans are funny. Ignore that at your peril.
- No matter our differences, all South Africans (and I would extend this to all people, no matter where in the world they live), all want the same thing. Very simply, we want to be able to get along, spend time with each other and have fun. Even the EFF knows that.
- We don't all eat chicken. And it hardly matters.
- None of us understand Eskom.
- And none of us are committed to the paying of e-tolls. We still consider it our option.
- It pays to be in touch with the people. Through their advert, Nando's has illustrated that they "get it". They proved that they walk amongst us, that they hear us and that they are us. The converse to this is also true.
This year's Al Jazeera interview with former speaker Baleka Mbete had South Africans cringing. She illustrated an embarrassing disconnect from the real issues of the country. She came across as either hopelessly naïve or astoundingly dishonest. Maybe even both. In doing so she also signalled that the ANC (or her faction at least) was not prepared to take responsibility for their role in the corruption that has almost destroyed the country.
Across the water in the United Kingdom, the recent BBC interview with Prince Andrew did the same. In a conversation that was designed to clear his name and explain why he was not to be associated with known sex offender and paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, he achieved the very opposite. He came across as cold, uncaring, unsmart and even guilty. At no time did he express any care for the victims of the abuse or any sensitivity towards the issues.
Both these interviews illustrated a disconnect. And both were failures.
Nando's is a South African success story. Much loved, it is also their cheeky and often provocative marketing approach that has not only become part of their brand identity, but has endeared us to the brand. They have taught us to expect edgy from them and that expectation has positioned them to be able get away with things that others might not.
Sadly, Mzansipoli is not a real game. It is not available for purchase and we cannot gather for an evening of fun. But that doesn't matter, because what Nando's created and what they captured through this advert is something that all South Africans, and all politicians should learn from.
- Howard Feldman is a keynote speaker and analyst. He is the author of three books and is the morning talk show host on ChaiFM.
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