We have always been a fan of Nandos’ marketing endeavors, not just their tongue-in-cheek humorous print ads reflecting the prevailing conditions (headed by the creative department of Adcom), but also their in-house branding efforts. The way they have woven stories seamlessly into their ambiance, something which the other franchises have utterly failed to do in spite of having a long and rich tradition themselves, speaks volumes for the ingenuity of their marketing department.

However, I have never been a fan of their food. Nine times out of ten, I have come out a disappointed customer. I would have thought I  was the odd man out until I saw the share of the Pakistani market that Nandos has as found out by Aurora in their December issue – a meager 6%, which just goes on to show I’m not the only one not satisfied with their offering.

A case can be made in their favor that Subway as well has only a 6% share although it has far more outlets than Nandos. To set the record straight, Nandos has just three in the entire metropolis of Karachi. But then, it could have deliberately kept the outlets low because it expect demand for more.

When it comes to aggressive sales promotion and pricing, Subway wins against Nandos hands down. Although Subway doesn’t come up with new innovative dishes likes Nandos does, what it does do is put a clever spin on its lone offering at a price that is unbeatable. Put another way, the amount of stuff you can have at a particular price at Subway wouldn’t fulfill you at all at Nandos.

That brings us to their new marketing toy- the Espetada Rustica. If you strip away the hype, there’s nothing to it- just five pieces of tender grilled chicken served with baked vegetables, a bun and butter sauce. But the way it is presented in that unique vertically inclined skewer and the story to go with it that Christopher Columbus was addicted to this on his New World Adventures. Now the late discoverer of America may never even have heard or seen this dish, let alone be addicted to it, but such is the power of storytelling in branding that this delicacy has become the darling of the consumers. I can’t think of a time before when the consumers rushed to Nandos for some new offering as they have responded this time. A friend of mine celebrated his wedding anniversary at Nandos courtesy the Espetada Rustica.

Of course the print and the radio medium had a big part to play in this state of affairs since it was advertised on both these mediums. While the radio ad was good, especially the heavy accent used to portray possibly a Portuguese chef, the print ad would have made the great David Ogilvy turn in his grave.

Ogilvy was always a great fan of the white background, or at least a light one which would highlight the foreground elements. Nandos always goes against this convention. And it just doesn’t work completely. Just look at the ad, the background is red, the skewer is red and so is the drink! No contrast whatsoever. And if that wasn’t enough, the details of the entrée are written in microscopic font on a green background. Who on earth would be able to read that without a magnifying glass? And this isn’t the first time they have committed this folly. The fact that the cuisine has become well-known with the consumer doesn’t mean the print ad was a success. Maybe all the people driven towards the entrée was the sole result of the radio ad or even the billboard.

Now the crucial part- the taste. In that department, the Estrada Rustica is quite good. It comes in two flavors, the mild and the hot. We checked out the mild one, so cannot comment on the other one. The size of the portion was generous, enough to satiate the appetite of a healthy adult. The accessories could have been much better both in diversity and portion. A few boiled/backed pieces of assorted vegetables just doesn’t cut it. They should have at least thrown in the potato wedges for good measure, even if they are not part of the original 16th century recipe, that is, if there is really an ancient recipe of it. In any way, something extra must have been included, considering the price of the offering.

And now we come to the second crucial part – the pricing. Simply put, it is exorbitant. At Rs. 575 plus tax plus a drink plus the tip, you are looking at an Rs.850 meal, and there’s no appetizer or dessert. Now that’s pretty steep. When Nandos first launched  the offer, the drink called Blanko was included in the 575. Not anymore. You have to pay Rs.120 plus tax for that too. And it’s not even in the menu. Another fantastic marketing gimmicky.

Coming to the drink, it is offered in two flavors, either a sprite or a coke. Trust me, take the sprite version, for the other one is simply undrinkable. Not that the sprite one fares much better. We couldn’t discern the taste completely, but it tasted like a cross between a hair spray and a talcum powder. We tried our hardest to identify the brands of the powder and the hair spray, but the citrus taste courtesy slices of apple and orange in this ‘Portuguese’ drink created a hurdle in this endeavor.

We asked the waiter what on earth were the ingredients of the drink, and the poor soul had no idea himself. He said a strange syrup is imported the contents of which are confidential, and this syrup is used to make this drink. Swell.

But you have got to hand it to the Nandos people for sexing up the presentation of the drink as well with that ancient shaped bottle to go with the Columbus tale. And the volume was generous enough, about 300-350 ml.

Another brilliant marketing tactic they have come up is the use of cards to entice the first time customer for a repeat visit. The card is divided into six coupons, each coupon valid for a single visit. For the 2nd visit, you get chicken wings for free if you spend a certain amount, for the 3rd wedges and so on.

On our second visit, as promised we got the chicken wings, and they were simply divine. The thing to praise here is that the Nandos people didn’t try to cheat by offering less just because it was free, something that other franchises are prone to do.

Nandos ought to continue with this innovative style of coming up with strange and supposedly exotic dishes and marketing them aggressively. Yes, the price of Estrada Rustic is a bit too steep, which I reckon includes the cost of the marketing campaign. Otherwise, Nandos could easily have priced this product at Rs. 300-400 considering there’s no unique or expensive ingredient in it. But then, I’m also in favor of charging a brand premium if you can position your brand favorably in the consumer’s mind. And Nandos has succeeded at that in this case.