There was an interesting article in a recent Sunday Times written by an academic who was clearly extremely upset by the penchant for the producers of South Africa's TV soapies to write commercial products and services into scripts in an effort to boost revenue.
Apparently, if you mine down into social media, there are a growing number of viewers who are increasingly irritated by the blatant product promotion inserted into the middle of the soapie's drama.
And if the producers of these programmes don't wise up fast, not only will this negative reaction from viewers start increasing dramatically but more and more actors will refuse to get involved in such crass promotion.
Demanding a piece of the action
There has already been at least one case of an actor demanding a piece of the action in terms of the extra revenue earned from product placement.
All of this is highly regrettable because it would be a disaster if branded television and product placement suffered any sort of negative reaction.
They are perfectly legitimate and clever ways of being able to promote products other than through regular commercial breaks, which are proving to be less and less effective simply because, other than the lower LSMs, nobody watches them anymore - 80% in the USA and 72% in Europe and probably more than 50% among upper LSMs in South Africa avoid ad breaks.
What is happening right now is that soapie producers who are getting flak from academics and viewers are simply getting it wrong.
Where 'less' is 'more'
The whole purpose and power of product placement is that it should be subtle enough that viewers don't realise it is actually advertising they are seeing.
This is no simple task and requires a lot of thought and creative genius to make sure that it is powerful enough to seen and remembered, but not blatant enough to be considered a cheap advertising ploy.
It is quite clear to me that in their haste to take advantage of this product placement and branded television lifeline, programme producers have allowed things to get out of hand.
Not nearly enough thought is going into how product placement is being implemented and unless something is done very smartly marketers will begin to lose interest in what has always been a really great idea.
In my own business, I advise clients on more than half a billion rand's worth of ad spend and I have to say I am getting really cynical about the return on investment television is offering through normal commercial breaks. Product placement is a great option and I would hate to see it looking death in the face.
Apart from being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk is a former chairman of Bizcommunity. He was head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk.
Product placement is synonyms with subtly however local soapies have not grasped the concept and often characters are compelled to explicitly influence audiences. Propaganda at its best, often done repeatedly to alter audience perceptions is indeed a cheap advertising ploy. Moreover the practice is creatively oppressive for our actors who are now reduced to being brand evangelist. George Washington Carver said “When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world”. Product placement "is the inclusion of a branded product in media to raise consumer awareness and increase demand ".
Like the Ariel Washing powder in Come Dine with Me. Utterly annoying that they couple high levels of advertising in the breaks with random shots during the show of the people unpacking their shopping to reveal their washing powder or unnecessary shots of them putting on a load of washing while entertaining. It makes me deliberately NOT buy Ariel!
Does any of this convert into real life sales. I think even the lower end of the market, traditionally not exposed to that much broadcast media are starting to pick up the fake placements/endorsements.
Product Placement works ONLY if it’s well executed (Buy-in from Storytellers and Producers is critical). In SA a lot of agencies should acclimatize themselves to local Television / Films and not necessarily rely on subtitles and the same applies to concertizing local Producers of the benefits of Product Placement.
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