PRODUCT PLACEMENT VS OUTRIGHT ADVERTISING. WHERE IS THE LINE DRAWN?
Kenyan acting industry is growing day by day as more local programs can be seen gracing the local channels. This growth has attracted corporate entities that have resorted to use local talent in creating advertisements, promotions and brand ambassadors. However, there is an emerging trend where local programs have been turned into advertisements. Popular local TV programs are losing their identity and originality to the new wave of corporate’s who seem to dictate the plot of the script to fit with their advertising needs.
Allow me to use the Citizen Show PAPA SHIRANDULA as an example to prove my point. For those who do not know the show, it is a popular Kenyan sitcom set in a slum. The sitcom revolves around “PAPA” the main character who leaves a double life. To his family, he (PAPA) is a computer programmer but in reality he works as a watchman. The localization of the content in this program mirrors the daily life of typical Kenyans in the slums and those in the rural areas thus making the show a favorite to many Kenyan viewers who easily relate with the events in the program.
The popularity of the show has attracted advertisers who jam the programs airtime with the intent of reaching the many viewers glued to the program at that particular time.
However, the programs script is slowly changing from the normal sitcom to a commercial program. When you watch papa shirandula nowadays, you can clearly see elements of promoting a products opposed to subtle product placements.
For example, there was this episode where Jambo jet was the subject of focus. Jambo Jet is a new commercial airline that is seeking to penetrate the Kenyan airline market. In the program, Papa Shirandula is scheduled to travel with his entire family to Mombasa (Kenyan coastal city) to visit their eldest daughter. As a means of transport, they choose to fly by Jambo jet. The whole show was scripted as a commercial advertisement with Naliaka (papa Shirandula’s daughter) articulating the airlines brochure to the viewers. This covered areas on booking, ticketing, offers, pricing and the services being offered by the airline.
On the upside, this served as an important way of educating the mass about airline transport especially on e-booking and flying regulations. However, throughout the whole program, viewers were treated to the monotonous preaching about jumbo jet. How safe it is, how cheap, how fast and how easy it is to book.
In the acting field, preaching is when a character plainly explains to the audience the thematic message in his/her act. Preaching is often associated with deficiency in script content since a good script is one which coats a message with stylistic devices that help drive the point to the viewers. It is important to note that when a script is forced to be commercial, the plot will be linear, formal and tailor made to drive the intended message. This is what is happening to shows like Papa shirandula where its more about the product being advertised that the story we once got to love.
The program lacks its usual dramatic elements such as surprise, twists and turns, humor and reality. In a bid to make the program not to lose its artistic touch, the directors and producers although are still trying to fuse drama but an element of plastic plot development is evident.
This new trend in our local programs ought to be discouraged as it inhibits creativity which is and will always be the bedrock of any good script. Yes, we need corporate sponsorship for better pays for cast and crew but where is the line drawn as to how product placement is done to not make it look obvious and shouting in our faces about that particular product without us loosing the real focus of why we are watching that show?