Nando’s founder Robbie Brozin
Day two of Cape Town creative conference Design Indaba featured talks from Nando’s founder Robbie Brozin, G-Star brand director Shubhankar Ray and Roy Choi, founder of Los Angeles-based Korean food truck, Kogi.
Robbie Brozin, Nando’s
Nando’s founder Robbie Brozin discussed the restaurant chain’s provocative approach to advertising, its ongoing African art project and how it plans to use its restaurants to showcase contemporary South African design.
Founded in Johannesburg in 1987, Nando’s now has restaurants in 16 countries, including over 200 in the UK. It was a difficult time to launch a business in South Africa, noted Brozin, with growing social unrest and frequent protests and with little money in its early days, Brozin said the brand adopted a provocative approach to advertising to get noticed, starting with a series of bizarre and cheeky 30-second TV ads.
Citing Nando’s ‘Secret’ spot – which promises to reveal the secret behind how its delicious chickens are made, before cutting to a scene of a pair of chickens reproducing, he joked: “We used chickens because we couldn’t afford actors…Our resources were so skimpy, and John Hunt must have been nervous about some of the work they made for us in the early days … but a lack of resources is often the greatest thing you can have [as a business]. It forces you to be creative,” he added.
This sense of humour has had a negative impact on the business in the past, however – Nando’s was forced to close Zimbabwe outlets following outrage over a 2011 ad portraying Colonel Gaddafi and Robert Mugabe bonding over fried chicken and water pistols. “It was the first time I really felt the power of social media, and the power of ads to have global impact,” said Brozin, but added: “I never want [the brand] to lose that irreverence and personality.
Brozin also spoke about the restaurant’s approach to interior design and how it varies in different markets – Nando’s UK business (led by Dick Enthoven and his son Robby) are positioned as more upmarket, he said, and each restaurant features a unique design.
Above and below: new Nando’s UK branches, via Nando’s on Facebook
Since 2002, Nando’s has been building an impressive collection of South African art to display in its restaurants, curated by art consultant Jeanetta Blignaut, which he said has now become a valuable asset for the company, as well as making restaurants look more inviting. Its not a social project – it makes jobs for the artists but the aim is to put great art on the walls…the collection is growing in value, it’s become an asset rather than an expense” he added.
He also presented the brand’s stunning headquarters in Johannesburg, designed by Tracy Lee Lynch – which he said were part of bringing the soul of the brand back to Africa. “As [the design team] started doing more with the store design abroad, South Africa kind of became irrelevant in the Nando’s world – but that shouldn’t have happened,” he said. The brand is now looking to curate a furniture collection by South African designers to roll out across its global branches, and announced a competition for emerging designers from the country to create a pendant light for its restaurants, which it will buy 100 of and help put into production.
G Star, Raw for the Oceans, created by Part of a Bigger Plan
Shubhankar Ray offered some wise advice for brands on how to develop a strong identity and get consumer’s attention without relying on traditional forms of advertising, taken from his forthcoming book, Molecular Brand Chemistry.
Citing his work for Camper, Ray noted the importance of having a clear set of values – “we live in a world where everyone is cool and all fashion is fast, so you have to do something surprising to get noticed…with Camper, I did strange ads in glossy magazines, casting people from the street, old people, farmers…it was a family owned business from Mallorca. That helped differentiate them – most fashion brands don’t glamorous the Mediterranean, it’s about New York, Tokyo,” he said. “[Camper’s advertising] was about taking something that wasnt cool and making it cool.”
He also noted how art and cultural events can be more effective than traditional forms of advertising such as TV spots, particularly in fashion. “We live in a world where everyone is cool and all fashion is fast, so you have to do something surprising to get noticed,” he said. To help cement G-Star’s statues in Europe and the US, Ray shocked New York Fashion Week audiences by placing actor Dennis Hopper on the catwalk reciting poetry by Rudyard Kipling – and curated a series of virtual nightclub museums, with art and live music performances. “It’s cheaper than advertising, and creates more impact,” he said, noting that brands should focus more on earning media now (appealing to consumer’s desire to share content themselves) than buying it.
Discussing how to use celebrity endorsement in a creative way, Ray noted G-Star’s work with Pharrell Williams: rather than simply use Williams in a photoshoot or TV ad, the brand teamed up with the musician to launch a pair of jeans made from recycled plastic found in the ocean, and is launching a film with iD in April exploring the impending impact of plastic waste and people who are using it creatively to make new products. The brand has also set up a website for the initiative, Raw for the Oceans.
“Most marketing and brand experts pontificate about content being the new advertising – I think context is the thing that gives advertising power…a brand has to stand for something,” he said, adding that to truly engage with consumers, brands should appeal to “stuff people give a shit about.”
“You have to stimulate momentum – if it has high relevancy, people will take it up,” he said.
Chef Roy Choi spoke about transforming people’s perceptions of street food with his Los Angeles based Korean BBQ food truck, Kogi, and how he hopes to rival McDonalds and other fast food chains with new social eating venture Loco’l.
Choi set up Kogi with a friend in 2008 after losing his job as a chef. “I had studied and practiced my craft and worked my way up the ladder, and then I got laid off … If you lose your job when you’re young, you don’t really care, but I was scared,” he said. He told a friend, who suggested the pair use his food truck to sell tacos outside Los Angeles nightclubs.
Seven years on, he is still delivering Korean-style street food to diners all over the city, but also runs several restaurants in Los Angeles. His career inspired the 2014 film Chef (director Jon Favreau shadowed Choi on ride-alongs while making the film), and his cookbook cum memoir, cookbook L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food made the New York Times bestseller list.
Twitter was crucial to Kogi’s early success, explained Choi – using the platform to tweet the location of food trucks quickly led to people coming from all over the city to queue for up to two hours for a $2 snack.
“In the first month, we were basically turning up at all the clubs and giving food away, but then we discovered twitter. At the time when no-one really knew what it was or what to do with it, but it was free, so we started using it to send our message and location out to people. Wed turn up somewhere and there would already be hundreds of people there already.”
As well as serving affordable, fresh, healthy food, Choi said the aim with Kogi was to create a new kind of social eating model – encouraging strangers to share food and get talking, something he said has now become the norm.
He also hoped to challenge misconceptions of food trucks as serving unhygienic or low quality food, as well as negative perceptions of minority neighbourhoods or immigrant communities in LA. “Before Kogi, people [in LA] called taco trucks roach coaches, which is horrible. It was labelled as if it was something dirty, that you wouldn’t feed your children – and now we’ve made them gourmet,” he said.
“Korea Town, where Im from, was a place people would drive through and be like, quick, lock your doors, and now it’s one of the hottest neighbourhoods in the city…We don’t try to lecture people, but were just ourselves with style and attitude and flavour, and it changed peoples way of looking at things,” he added.
Despite Kogi’s popularity, Choi said he has deliberately kept the business small – “It was partly a reflection of who we were – were quite low key, we kept ourselves to ourselves,” he says – but is now hoping to raise $150,000 to fund loco’l, described as a new kind of fast food restaurant.
A joint project with chef Daniel Patterson, Loco’l is seeking funding to set up affordable fast food restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The project has so far received over $50,000 in donations on indiegogo, proposing the same burger and chicken style menu as popular global chains, but using locally sourced food and produce sourced from local farmers.
“It’s our attempt to flip fast food on its head, and go up against McDonald’s and Burger King.” In time, he said he also hopes to branch into institutional dining too, helping improve food in schools, hospitals and prisons.
Other speakers included Dominic Wilcox, who presented inventive designs showcased in his Variations on Normal blog (now available as a book), and offered some wise advice for designers on the importance of playful design, hands-on making and not being afraid of being crazy or ridiculous – you never know what might come of it, he said. 83-year-old Rosita Missoni discussed her love of colour and material, how she set up the business with her husband Ottavio in 1953 and her decision to step down from the fashion side of the business in 1997 to run Missoni Home. She also oversaw the design of Missoni’s hotels.
Tomorrow’s speakers include filmmaker Casey Neistat, Yoni Bloch, Emily Oberman, Dan Wieden and William Kentridge.
You can follow events using the hashtag #designindaba or see designindaba.com for more info about the conference.