Sanlam debuts SA’s first WhatsApp drama in novel marketing campaign

sanlam ukshona kewlanga whatsapp series

We’ve seen social media used extensively as the vehicle for performance art, but what about less image-heavy services like WhatsApp?

Arriving via a clever marketing campaign by Sanlam, South African drama series Uk’shona Kwelanga (or The Death of Langa) is set to debut on the Facebook-owned chat app next month.

Yes, a drama series made exclusively for WhatsApp.

According to the press release, the show “tells the tale of a South African family struggling to deal with the emotional and financial ramifications of loss while planning their father’s funeral”.

The screenplay is penned by Bongi Ndaba (previous head writer of Generations) while a number of renowned actors from South Africa will lend their faces and voices to the show, including the likes of Shabangu’s Bongani Madondo, Isidingo’s Linda Sokhulu and Stokvel’s Thembi Mtshali.

Focussing on a funeral isn’t exactly new territory for screenplays, but Uk’shona Kwelanga is a breakthrough in terms of medium.

The series will be portrayed entirely through WhatsApp, using text messages, photos sent between characters, voice notes and short video snippets to paint the unfolding events.

“A marketing campaign including a promotional video, billboards and social media ads will build an audience for the series,” the presser adds.

WhatsApp: the future of product marketing?

Notably though, this isn’t just a stunt simply serving the performance art. The show will be sponsored by Sanlam, and is actually a crafty punt for the company’s funeral products.

“The Funeral Scheme market is an important business for Sanlam; however in the past they have had challenges making inroads as a brand that is strongly associated with this offering,” explains Lesego Kotane, one of the brainchildren of the campaign, and strategy partner at King James Group.

“Besides having a very strong product offering to talk about, we also wanted to demonstrate to our market that Sanlam has an understanding of the realities that come with the planning of a send off for a loved on.”

Uk’shona Kwelanga is a drama series crafted entirely for WhatsApp marketing Sanlam’s funeral products

As for using WhatsApp as the primary campaign vehicle, Sanlam’s Tendani Matshisevhe believes that the chat app’s popularity allows the company to “educate people in an experiential and accessible way”.

“We wanted it to be as lifelike as possible — also showing the cultural issues of deciding where to lay a loved one to rest, observing important rituals and balancing the demands of the modern world and tradition,” he adds.

Social media: the death of the television

It’s not the first time social media is used as a purveyor of series or as a central mechanic in series. Norwegian show Skam uses the likes of Instagram to give its characters tangible online presence. It’s proven to be successful in the country too, with four seasons already completed.

The likes of Sickhouse, which billed itself as Snapchat’s first full-length feature film, used the social network as a lens. 2015’s social horror Unfriended also used Skype as the central story mechanic.

Those interested in following Uk’shona Kwelanga will be required to subscribe with their full names to a five-digit SMS number prior to the show’s debut on 5 June.

Showrunners will then relay episodes via WhatsApp for the next seven days — roughly the amount of time it takes to plan a funeral, Sanlam adds.

Update: the link to the campaign goes live on 31 May.

Andy Walker, former editor


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