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How local TV programs waste airtime

Why insert a 30 seconds commercial message in a broadcast when you can sell your product for 30 to 120 minutes to an audience that is giving you its fullest attention? Why not make the entire absorbing story the actual advertisement copy?


We may ignore it, but we waste a lot of resources as an economy when we fail to produce media content that unceasingly sells our products.  We are allowing our media programming to be fixed on producing pure entertainment. A marketing communications perspective would see this as a complete loss of opportunity and commercial fortune.

Media is the single most powerful tool for rhetoric; every time a broadcast item is aired or printed without carrying any business message (explicitly or implicitly), it brings an economic loss. Practitioner in communication will acknowledge that there is no such thing as non-rhetoric content. A guarded principle is that, if you are not selling anything, you are better off being off-air.

Most local production still thrives on the premise and model where pure entertainment pays for itself. It is normal to watch a half an hour programme without being sold any specific item –albeit even subtly. This problem is not limited to Kenya, movies from Nigeria and popular soaps operas from Mexico come loaded only with delight.

Well-employed foreign ‘free content’

On the contrary, movies and programmes from Europe and North America are laden with display of their products and ideologies. The actors are drinking their wines, driving their locally-made cars, sailing their own-made yachts and flying their airplanes.  After watching a Rambo movie, our governments are ready to place orders for military helicopters.

That’s not all, after watching a few episodes of a sensational series; most people will want to go shopping for the trendiest item a leading actress was featured with. Men on their part would desire to drive a fabulous convertible; the one James Bond rode, or wear a wrist watch that bears resemblance to that of the superstar.

An example of a well-employed foreign ‘free content’ is the cartoon network. A tentative study conducted by Document Point reveals that Kenyan children who diligently watch cartoons are more likely to buy dolls, toys and video games than those who didn’t. The manufacturers of these items are prepared to fund producers of such content and allow them to be aired at their expense since they provide sublime advertisement.

The wisdom in adopting a 360-degree marketing approach is; why insert a 30 seconds commercial message in a broadcast (which some audiences will proactively switch off) when you can sell your product for 30 to 120 minutes to an audience that is giving you its fullest attention? Why not make the entire absorbing story the actual advertisement copy?

This means going beyond utilising the customary messaging techniques that revolve around commercials and documentaries to a more extensive method. The concepts of infotainment and edutainment are buttressed with infomercials. The call for increased local content in the media must not narrowly be about citizens producing it, but the media putting across messages that create wealth to the nation.

A few organisations have tried a version of the tactic by allowing selected popular local programmes to mention their products or services in their scripts. However, only one programme funded by an international cellphone brand successfully pulled it all out; the local actors conspicuously and enthusiastically displayed and occupied themselves with the ‘refined’ handsets.

Don’t tell them, show them

In further support, some local clothing lines freely dress up news anchors to showcase their designs. The communication mantra employed is ‘Don’t tell them, Show them.’

Evidently, not all marketing is for commercial gain. Some organisations and agencies in public and nonprofit sector may wish to change attitudes or behaviour. Therefore, they may sponsor films or programmes that foster national cohesion, rebuke corruption, preserve the environment or encourage schooling.

Lack of a collaborative inter-industrial working relationship in which synergy is harnessed and costs and benefits shared may be an impediment to this endeavour. Our business practices have for a long time thrived on rivalry and competition as opposed to cooperation and mutual aid to succeed. This means managers in public and private sectors pooling together and harvesting the collective benefits of this practice. This is necessary when contemplating winning over international markets.

Costs for generating quality media productions will fall drastically when industry regulators, manufacturers and service providers appreciate that offering their products to be featured in telecasts will highly profit them – at times, even more effectively than direct advertising. Several companies will pool in, each contributing a product or service it produces. A local movie will therefore afford a world-class hotel scene, business class flights, a professional legal representation, a ‘real’ complex medical procedure scene et cetera.

The effective literal device employed will be the slice of life; a tactic that makes the products, services or ideas ordinary to the audience even before they procure them. This can be highly effective. A TV series called 24 acclimatised the American citizens to the idea of a black president. This paved an easier way for Barrack Obama’s ascendency.

However, a challenge may arise regarding safeguarding quality and ensuring that the strategy isn’t overused. The entire local content production industry will have to up their game. Abusing the concept will quickly render it unimaginative.

Edwin Musonye is a freelance writer based in Nairobi. Email

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