This week I watched a South African advertisement that was pulled from TV, titled “Big John.” The advertisement was created by Chicken Licken, a popular fast-food chicken chain. The ad depicts a man named Big Mjohnana, who sets off on an expedition in 1650, and eventually stumbles upon a group of white people on a piece of land, when he proclaims “I like this place. I will call it Europe.” The advertisement was cancelled by the Advertising Regulatory Board, claiming that the advertisement was trying to make light of colonization which was traumatic for African people and thus should not be joked about. Chicken Licken then stood by their advertisement, claiming that “The commercial stems to show South Africans that Chicken Licken believes this country has all the potential to conquer the world and rewrite history from an African perspective.”
Personally, I found the advertisement very entertaining and smart. While undoubtedly colonialism was and still is traumatic for many people, the ad was an example of perfect satire. Big John is a confident, funny protagonist, and manages to do whatever he wants without injury. He fights off sharks, whales, jaguars and storms without issue. When he first encounters white people, he is the one helping them flip their maps and show them what is right. Of course the story is fake and makes light of a dark situation, but I think that sometimes joking about the darkest things can make them the funniest. It is wild that Chicken Licken went to such an extent to market a chicken sandwich, but clearly it got people’s attention and served its purpose.
I have also been thinking about why companies like Nando’s and Chicken Licken make their ads political, instead of just lighthearted and focused on their food. I think it has a lot to do with the climate in South Africa; maybe people are more likely to pay attention if the advertisements actually apply to their lives and discuss issues that everyone cares about. When Nike makes an advertisement about gender equality, I know that I am much more likely to want to buy their products and support a company that has my same values. So, Chicken Licken has brilliant marketing!