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The Story of Chakalaka Norris, Savanna Cider and Nando’s Spicy Collab Protagonist

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Grey South Africa’s creative director, Steph van Niekerk, on the collaboration that’s confident and spicy enough to represent both brands, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani

The Story of Chakalaka Norris, Savanna Cider and Nando’s Spicy Collab Protagonist

As South African cider brand Savanna launches its new Chilled Chilli drink in collaboration with peri-peri chicken chain Nando’s, a spicy protagonist named Chakalaka Norris leads a campaign which nods to all things South African, dramatic and sassy.

Working with agency Grey South Africa, the campaign was shot across a period of five months as the team worked hard to capture the LGBTQ+ community and cast the perfect person for the role of Chakalaka. The brands both share a sense of humour which the team was keen to share with the audience. Voiced over by one of the creative directors, the campaign’s bold attitude tells viewers, “He’s so spicy he eats Nando’s chicken in Savanna ads.”

Steph van Niekerk, creative director at Grey South Africa, speaks to LBB’s Nisna Mahtani about the collaboration between two local brands. 

LBB> We need to know where the idea for Chakalaka Norris came from. What were the initial discussions?

Steph> To launch Savanna Chilled Chilli we worked off the insight that in South Africa, ‘spice’ doesn’t just mean flavour, it means drama and sass – attitudes this country has in spades. We were looking for the ultimate embodiment of this kind of ‘spice’ and we found our inspiration in the LGBTQA+ community. We loved the tension between a queer character and Chuck Norris, or in this case ‘Chakalaka Norris’ – Chakalaka being a kind of spicy relish loved by all South Africans. In the confluence of all these things Chakalaka was born and ready to saunter into popular culture with claps backs so hard, they feel a lot like getting chilli in your eye.

LBB> How did the collaboration between Savanna and Nando’s first come up and did both clients have a similar vision?

Steph> Savanna and Nando’s are cut from the same cultural cloth — they’re both iconic local brands known for their brazen use of humour, so we knew it would be a brilliant fit. Our CCO, Fran Luckin had worked on Nando’s in the past and reached out to the brand team saying that we were keen to have a communications collab. Thankfully they were up for it, and we brought them in on the idea.

LBB> Was the plan always to go with a humorous tone and why does this work so well within the market?

Steph> Since its inception in ‘96 Savanna has always been known for comedy and its crisp witty perspective on South African life. Humour is very much part of the brand’s DNA and there was no doubt that we had to push the boat out on this bold new flavour. When brands and consumers can laugh together, building brand love is much easier. This is evident in Savanna’s continued growth and place in popular culture. Our purpose has always been to uplift the nation through humour and in these stressful and uncertain times, the nation needs and responds to it more than ever.

LBB> What was the process of finding the right person to be the campaign’s protagonist? Did it take long to find the right Chakalaka?

Steph> The director, Peter Pohorsky and his team at Plank Films embarked on an extensive casting process both in Johannesburg and Cape Town. None of us had a definite vision of who Chakalaka was but we knew that we would ‘know it when we see it.’ This was important because we didn’t want the character to be based on our own preconceived notions nor did we want him to come off as a shallow stereotypical caricature of a queer person. We narrowed it down to confidence and we looked for the person who could own the room and the screen, seemingly without effort. We struck gold with the actor, Tyler Spellman who is an absolute natural. Interestingly, it was his very first TV gig.

LBB> Let’s talk about styling, what was the inspiration behind Chakalaka’s iconic look?

Steph> We had the luxury of spending two full days in wardrobe just to find his look. Pete’s brief summed it up perfectly: ‘Chakalaka is so confident, he could wear Walmart to Paris Fashion Week and steal the show.’ We worked off that and a thousand outfits later we stumbled on what would become his signature look.

LBB> “He’s so spicy he eats Nando’s chicken in Savanna ads” - how long did it take to create that line and how did you know that it was the perfect fit for the campaign?

Steph> Once Nando’s agreed to collaborate, we had to find a place for the chicken in the narrative of Chakalaka. We knew that this had to climax the ad somehow and that whatever we did had to be hella spicy. Copywriter, Tyler Lambert, was the genius who realised that nothing could be spicier than Chakalaka eating another brand’s product in a Savanna ad – especially since both brands vie for the pole position of Twitter. It was cheeky and unexpected but didn’t feel contrived – that’s why we liked it. 

LBB> The narrator delivers the lines perfectly. How did you go about casting the voiceover?

Steph> We are lucky enough that Savanna’s brand voice is a creative director at the agency. Sometimes it helps to have a creative’s voice as they instinctively understand the nuances of tone, comic timing, delivery, and pace.

LBB> What was the most challenging aspect when it came to editing the piece?

Steph> Since Chakalaka is the embodiment of confidence, we needed the whole ad to feel like an unhurried seamless strut through the bar. In reality, the bar we shot at is tiny and has lots of nooks and crannies. The director and the editor, Xander Van Der Westhuizen, worked wonders to make it seem like a continuous saunter when in fact it wasn’t.

LBB> How long did it take, from start to finish, to create the campaign?

Steph> We received the brief a year ago and have been crafting the campaign and all its elements since then. The production however took about four to five months.

LBB> We’d love to hear about some of the reactions you’ve seen/heard about so far?

Steph> People love his style and his look and Chakalaka has become somewhat of a style icon. His confidence is something young people seem to aspire to and what is interesting is that we have received positive feedback from ALL corners of South African society. It seems Chakalaka, who could very well have been an alienating character, has had no respect for demographic, racial or cultural barriers and is loved by even the most conservative contingents of South African culture.

LBB> Would you like to share anything else about the process?

Steph> For me, it was a lesson in what brands could achieve if they spend less time worrying about each other and more time working together. For it to work though, you need two brands that are confident enough in themselves to share the limelight without feeling threatened or undermined.

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Grey South Africa, Mon, 16 May 2022 15:30:00 GMT