by Kim Penstone. How do you grow a new brand, in a depressed and downtrodden consumer environment, in an overtraded market, with a client who — by his own admission — is a “firm believer in the death of mainstream marketing and advertising” and thinks that “TV is dead in the water” and “hates radio”? Let your customers do the talking, says Mike Sharman of Retroviral.

Crucial role

The specialist online agency was tasked by RocoMamas to help it connect with the millennial market, and has played a crucial role in growing the franchise from just three stores across South Africa a short 18 months ago to 52 across SA, Namibia and as far afield as Saudi Arabia.

Brian Altriche, the man who developed this zero-to-hero brand from scratch in an attempt to create ‘wholesome’ fast food for kids such as his own daughter, acts nonchalant about the exponential growth and the subsequent sale of a majority share to franchise giant, Spur Corporation. But behind this seemingly relaxed facade is a man completely obsessed with creating a brand that truly connects with consumers.

“I’d been grappling with how to connect with the millennial market for a while because I believe that, if you get the millennials, the rest will come. But they’re a tough crowd. So I spent a lot of time sitting in the stores, just watching them interact with the brand,” says Altriche.

He knew from the outset, through his daughter, that social media was his way in, but it wasn’t until he saw his customers photographing the food that he realised the full extent of the opportunity. And as a newcomer to the social media space himself, he realised he needed a helping hand.

Donald-Trump huge

Enter Retroviral, and the birth of what seems like a truly collaborative relationship.

The team’s first stab at the social scene, the six-week long #ElectionBurger campaign that played out at the same time as the American elections in 2016, was huge. Donald-Trump huge.

The 2016 #ElectionBurger campaign invited RocoMamas fans to vote for their favorite of three specially-created burgers, #TheDonald (super cheesy, double the bill, no guacamole or anything sounding Mexican) #TheHillBill (liberally garnished beef, chicken and bacon burger), and #TheJoker (the minority option with a bold flavour).


Within two hours of the official launch, #ElectionBurger trended nationally and, to date, RocoMamas holds the record as the most instagrammed burger in SA. Over the six-week period, the campaign yielded 14m ‘opportunities to see’ on Twitter, while the RocoMamas Facebook page grew by 20 000 fans, reaching a high of 57 000 unique visitors — a 70% year-on-year increase. Importantly, the campaign resulted in a 20% year-on-year increase in sales, making it the most-successful campaign in RocoMamas’ three-year history.

Both client and agency are quick to point out that this success is a direct result of both parties truly listening, not only to each other but also — and most crucially — to their customers. “From sitting in the stores, just watching, Brian saw that his customers wanted to share their experiences at RocoMamas, so he created the best possible environment for that,” Sharman explains.

Entire interior custom-designed

In fact, the entire interior of the RocoMamas brand — from the open-plan kitchens and unique mosaics on the walls to the lighting in-store and the boards on which the food is served — has been custom-designed to enhance and encourage food photography. Altriche even outlawed lettuce on the burgers, because it is prone to wilt, often spoiling an otherwise good shot. (As an aside, it comes as no small surprise to learn that Altriche studied the art of franchise at the right hand of Spur founder, Allen Ambor, who was also intimately involved in every aspect of the Spur brand, right down to designing the iconic in-store lights himself.)

To enhance the RocoMamas experience, Altriche also handpicks the store music playlists, from a selection of ’60s and ’70s rock — what he terms “multigenerational music” from the time when “rock was cool”. And, in order to actively encourage customers to share their RocoMamas experience more freely, he is determined that each store will ultimately provide unlimited free wifi. (Although, obviously, this is reliant upon infrastructure which doesn’t always play ball.)

But, in a world choked with food experiences, building the perfect brand no longer guarantees that your customers will come.

RocoMamas and Retroviral released the brand’s second social-media campaign in February 2017. Entitled #HomeoftheBrave, it aims to reinforce RocoMamas brand stand as somewhat extra-ordinary. So, if you’re not scared of eating ribs on a first date, or smashing a burger in your face when you’re ‘hangry’, you know where to go! Shot by Huw Morris.


“There is a science to social media. You need the right content to create talkability, but you also need to seed it to the right people, at the right time. Making something go viral to the extent that the #ElectionBurger campaign did requires a team that truly understands this new environment, and how the new generation interacts within it,” says Sharman.

Altriche adds that, these days, it’s all about “sharing your brand”: “We never told our customers what to think about RocoMamas; we’ve let them experience the brand and tell their own stories about it. In this way, they have been allowed to share in the brand story, and its development. Our customers have grown brand.”


Kim PenstoneKim Penstone is a freelance journalist, specialising in marketing, media and advertising. Over the past 15 years, she has worked for a variety of leading marketing industry publications, including Marketing Mix, Marketingweb and Brand Magazine, and in her freelance capacity contributes regularly to specialist titles, such as Brands & Branding, AdFocus and MarkLives. She has recently started a blog,, which is completely unrelated to the marketing industry.

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