by Oresti Patricios (@orestaki) South Africans love soap operas and are WhatsApp fanatics. King James has traded on these two insights to create a campaign for Sanlam that knocks the ball way out of the park for a service that’s notoriously tough to sell.

Telling stories is acknowledged as an effective way to get people to listen to your message, which is why some of the most-effective ads on TV manage to create characters, a story arc and a resolution in just 30 seconds or two minutes. But how about using social media, itself such a fleeting and transitory medium, to tell a story, in real time, that ultimately sells a product? King James has done just this, with an ad that played out on WhatsApp, a chat app designed to make instant messaging (or text) chat easier and cheaper.

WhatsApp not only does text messaging but also allows for voice messaging, photos, video messaging and even voice-over-internet telephony (VoIP). One of its strengths is its ability to create chat groups, much like forums, where people with a common interest may share information. So it was only a matter of time before savvy marketers recognised how effective WhatsApp might be as a storytelling device that also engages with a target market.

Pinterest icon View all the Ads of the Week at a glance on our #AdoftheWeek Pinterest board!
YouTube icon Watch our 2017 #AdoftheWeek playlist on YouTube

The mechanics of the ad campaign were simple. A pre-launch campaign invited people to join the WhatsApp group by sending an SMS, and adding a number to their address book. (Of course, one had to have WhatsApp installed.) The group was then opened to the user, although the ability to comment was disabled, for obvious reasons.

Starting on 4 June 2017, over seven days, users could watch the plot unfold in the group, with messages, photos and sound or video clips being shared on the group by various characters — cast members played by well-known actors from SA radio and TV dramas and ‘soapies’. The script was co-written by Generations scriptwriter, Bongi Ndaba. The story revolved around the death of one of the family members, and the drama followed the events leading up to the funeral.

As told to our sister column, Shelf Life, the response exceeded expectations. WhatsApp has a limit of 256 people per group and, anticipating that some people might only sign up after the first date, a staggered release of new groups was planned for — at one stage, there were even 12 groups running simultaneously.

Funeral insurance can be a difficult sell and, for a long time, financial companies have tackled this by using direct marketing, hard selling, the fear factor or a number of other methods to try and make their brand top of mind. With their campaign, Sanlam and King James show that they get that advertising is changing. Engagement and hot content are critical to try and ensure people tune into a brand particularly for something that might be seen as a grudge purchase.

Uk’shona Kwelanga shows the kind of innovation that gets people talking, and listening. More so, this campaign has generated loads of media coverage and gotten people talking about the brand, which is a big win for Sanlan.

Well done to Sanlam and King James for a campaign that should be taught in business and advertising schools to explain key tenets about advertising that works. This initiative is relevant, real, has top-class production values, is mobile and cuts through advertising clutter.

Smart scripting, clever integration and an ingenious use of media makes Uk’shona Kwelanga an engagement on steroids. Financial companies targeting the same sector better watch and learn — or be left behind.


Advertising agency: King James Group (Cape Town)
Creative director: Dan Pinch
Art director: Kagiso Tshepe
Copywriters: Dominique Sweigers, Bongi Ndaba
Strategist: Lesego Kotane
Client service: Cara Bulteel, Lameez Domingo
Project management: Christia Wollner
Producer: Kim-Lara King

Edited at 10.30am on 12 July 2017.



Oresti PatriciosAd of the Week, published on MarkLives every Wednesday, is penned by Oresti Patricios (@orestaki), the CEO of Ornico, a Brand Intelligence® firm that focuses on media, reputation and brand research. If you are involved in making advertising that is smart, funny and/or engaging, please let Oresti know about it at

Sign up now for the MarkLives email newsletter every Monday and Thursday, now including headlines from the company newsroom service!


One reply on “Ad of the Week: Sanlam’s WhatsApp soapie is a first for SA”

  1. Wow an innovative way to market a service! But I am curious as to how they manage to disable the ability to comment..

Comments are closed.

Online CPD Courses Psychology Online CPD Courses Marketing analytics software Marketing analytics software for small business Business management software Business accounting software Gearbox repair company Makeup artist