Mambos’ Chicken is known for witty and edgy advertising. But, argues Milayo Ndou, their lewd ads are a symptom of broader societal attitudes that buttress male sexual entitlement at women’s expense.
Some years back, when a national daily newspaper suddenly took on a sexist and sensationalist tone, I remarked that a newspaper reveals and reflects the values or preoccupations of its editor. Later, when I worked in the private sector, I extended that observation to business leaders.
A business can subtly or overtly reflect the values and preoccupations of its owner. One need not know Freedom Maziriri personally, to appreciate that he really has no problem with running a business that monetises male sexual entitlement through a marketing and advertising strategy which reinforces harmful social norms such as the belief that men are owed sex.
Mambos’ Chicken is a brand that is associated with creative, witty and edgy advertising that the Marketers Association of Zimbabwe (MAZ) regarded as deserving of the Best Social media and Digital Campaign award of 2019.
There is no denying that the creative team is quite talented and innovative. In fact, Freedom Maziriri’s Mambo’s Chicken effectively deploys newsjacking (i.e when a business generates adverts around a well-discussed issue or news item) as a marketing tactic. The newsjacking approach is consistent with its brand strategy for dominating mindshare in online engagement.
The problem is that Mambo’s Chicken seems to more frequently jack news that is of a salacious and sexually explicit nature. The kind of gossipy and sexualised social media content that Mambo’s Chicken builds its adverts around ensures that it delivers lewd jokes in coded language that reinforce attitudes of entitlement.
For instance, in one of its adverts, Mambo’s Chicken makes oblique references to violent pornographic acts, specifically ‘assembling a squad’ for a ‘gang bang’. Expletives involving the ‘f-word’ are also cleverly embedded in its advertising. Some might argue that these adverts are harmless and that people who find them offensive shouldn’t be too sensitive, but adverts are neither created nor consumed in a vacuum.
Mambo’s Chicken adverts are not neutral or value-free – they are harmful
Adverts, like any other content disseminated through the mass media, are not value-free or neutral. Various cultural and social norms can and do provide sources of content for advertisement.
For some reason, Freedom Maziriri’s Mambo’s Chicken opts to find inspiration in patriarchal norms that fuel rape culture and misogyny. The brand profits from endorsing patriarchal values, particularly the notion that the sexual gratification of men matters more than female consent.
According to Oxfam, whilst there is no single cause for physical and sexual violence against women, some of the strongest and most consistent factors are harmful social norms that contribute to gender inequality.
For example, harmful social norms are reflected in an advert that suggests (after newsjacking a popular MDC-A hashtag) through innuendo that a man who buys Mambo’s Chicken for a woman, is at least owed some bit of sex [kana akutengera Mambo’s ngapinde hake amana].
Such an advert draws on harmful social norms such as the idea (i) that men are expected to exercise coercive control (ii) that women cannot deny their male partners sex and (iii) that sexual harassment is normal. Drawing upon attitudes of male sexual entitlement, even in jest, is problematic because guys who take sexual entitlement to the extreme believe that women owe them sexual favors in exchange for attention, aggressiveness, or just plain existing.
Mambo’s Chicken has adopted a marketing tone that positions it as ‘one of the guys’, sharing lewd content to bond with male customers over sexual banter, and at the expense of women.
Phrases with double entendres, or double meanings, are often employed to discuss the Mambo’s Chicken portions equating chicken parts to women’s body parts, e.g chicken thighs and breasts are a parallel women’s thighs and breasts. For instance, one advert jokingly warns men that not eating Mambo’s Chicken might cost them opportunities to perform sexually [ichaswika nguva yekuti kana usina kudya Mambo’s haukwire], whilst a Christmas advert exhorted men to ‘give it to her with the lights on’.
The tone and substance of these sexualiesd adverts makes it evident that the target audience is male, and women are simply referenced as objects of male sexual gratification. Given how it has positioned its brand as edgy through sexually connotative advertising content, even its tagline of ‘Eat like a King’ can be read as a double entendre and certainly foregrounds men as the target audience – especially with adverts that say: “thighs so thick, breasts so soft, buns so big” and that directly address the “budget of a regular barchelor (sic) in Harare” and tells customers to “eat the breast like a king”.
In a December 2020 interview, the female Marketing Manager at Mambo’s Chicken stated:
“Let me take this opportunity to tell everyone that there is a direct relationship between our Social Media activity and sales.” – Mambo’s Chicken Marketing Manager, Pamela Nyakabau
It is unsurprising that the advertorial salacity of Mambo’s Chicken is rewarded with sales because they deploy dog whistling tactics and coded language to legitimise male sexual entitlement and capitalise on the kind of ‘locker-room talk’ that sexually objectifies women.
Mambo’s Chicken reflects the language of sexual predators – and emboldens them
Mambo’s Chicken is thriving on its sexualised advertising material because it is tacitly normalising the attitudes, beliefs and actions of sexual predators who – seeing their coded language reflected in corporate marketing – feel emboldened, recognised and legitimated.
Many women experience the Mambo’s Chicken adverts differently and find them triggering. This is because such women and girls know what it is like to be harassed by sexually entitled men who sometimes feel like it’s alright to leer at women, make sexual advances to them at work, inappropriately touch them, or sometimes even blaming women for being sexually attractive and tempting them.
Freedom Maziriri’s Mambo’s Chicken evokes lived experiences of various manifestations of male sexual entitlement that directly affect women such as street harassment, sexual harassment, and sexually motivated stalking. These behaviors are not funny to women – they are unsafe, frightening and often lead to violent sexual aggression.
Mambo’s Chicken draws on its deep situational knowledge and awareness of Zimbabwe’s sexist coded language to tap into and monetize the very rich vein of misogyny that thrives in patriarchal society.
Mambo’s Chicken undermines female consent and sanitises sexual coercion
When filtered through women’s lived experiences of sexual harassment – the Mambo’s Chicken adverts mimic the catcalling gangs of ‘youthies’ sitting on drainage bridges in the ‘locations’ hurling sexual innuendos at passing women or girls. Mambo’s Chicken is the brand channeling the language of unruly touts who strip women in public; of bosses who grope female workers; of soccer fanatics who grab random women’s behinds; of the disgusting strangers in clubs or pubs who dry-hump women and feel entitled to touching them.
In short, Freedom Maziriri’s Mambo’s Chicken channels the kind of language associated with men who sexually violate women – and find it funny.
The Mambo’s Chicken brand has monetised lechery and lewdness, masquerading as witty and risqué marketing. In churning out lewd commentary, Freedom Maziriri’s company exploits sexual predatory behaviors linked to male sexual entitlement to perform its role as ‘one of the boys’.
Adverts can and do cause harm, depending on the social norms or values they are promoting.
A good friend recently noted how there are thousands of pregnant teenage girls whose story began with “Ainditengera chakati so when he demanded sex I couldn’t refuse”; and countless women who suffer and die in marriages because murume akabhadhara roora or provides; not to mention teenage mothers struggling to look after their babies alone; and women who are treated like things and beaten to a pulp and killed for ‘being ungrateful’ by refusing to give a man his sexual dues.
For such women and girls, the adverts churned by Mambo’s Chicken are not funny, witty, or harmless. Yet Mambo’s Chicken gets away with it because society does not really care about women and girls, with respect to female sexual consent.
Mambo’s Chicken profits from promoting the idea of male sexual gratification
In response to its lecherous marketing tactics, Mambo’s Chicken has been rewarded with sales, with laughter and applause as well as with industry recognition in the form of awards from the Markerters Association of Zimbabwe.
According to the Marketing Manager of Mambo’s Chicken, Pamela Nyakabau, their brand “is fun, exciting and innovative…. we make sure we engage our customers in conversation even if it’s not chicken related.” The problem with Mambo’s Chicken is that it has chosen to lead customers in lewd conversations, harnessing sexism and misogyny to promote male sexual gratification.
Mambo’s Chicken also routinely cites the Bible, using scriptures such as Song of Solomon 7:7-8, to make pointed reference to foreplay and in another advert implicitly references sexual positions asking, “how do you eat it: from the back, from the front, from the side?”; whilst in yet another advert it cites Deuteronomy 25:11-12, which explicitly mentions a woman seizing a man’s genitals.
The lewd advertorial content churned out by Mambo’s Chicken is a symptom of broader societal and cultural attitudes that buttress male sexual entitlement at women’s expense. It would appear these attitudes are actively endorsed and championed by Freedom Maziriri’s company – and in turn, these attitudes are apparently rubber-stamped by the selection committee of the Marketers’ Association of Zimbabwe, which rewards such risqué marketing content for being exceptional.
Milayo Ndou is a feminist thinker and media scholar pursuing research on Violence Against Women in Elections (VAWIE). She has a keen interest in tracing how gendered repression manifests and the ways in which it constricts women’s effective political participation. Twitter handle: @MilayoNdou
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