Not so big in Japan – or Mzansi

2012-07-14 18:16

It started with faded 80s stars selling everything from toothpaste to adult nappies in badly shot green-screen adverts.

And when A-list Hollywood stars cottoned on to the outrageous amounts of money they could make in between movies, they also got on the band wagon.

“Big in Japan” was born – and the jokes followed.

While Alphaville’s extremely camp Big In Japan video became a hit, folk singer Tom Waits’ lyrics: “I got the sizzle but not the steak/ I got the boat but not the lake/ I got the sheets/ but not the bed “I got the jam but not the bread/ But heh I’m big in Japan!” hit the nail on the head.

If the recent spate of celebrity adverts hitting South Africa is anything to go by, the saying will soon be “Big in SA”.

International celebrities have been trickling into the country to shoot adverts no one abroad will see unless they search for them on YouTube.

Like Japan, South Africa is fast becoming the trend spot where Hollywood faces pop in to shoot an advert, get paid, then leave.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if they insisted on a clause saying the advert should not be seen anywhere but Mzansi for fear of losing their fan base or “cheapening” their brand.

This is called foreign celebrity advertising, and the latest formally cool Hollywood A-lister to have fallen for it is William Shatner, affectionately known as the eccentrically hilarious Denny Crane from Boston Legal.

There was a collective cringe in the country when insurance company Dial Direct debuted an advert showing Shatner (81) selling insurance while playing tennis in a suit.

Local casting agents and talent scouts are grumbling.

Actors’ agent Zinzi Zungu said advertisers took a big gamble on international celebs.

She said: “They spend millions of rands on someone they don’t know whether audiences will relate to or not, but they also get people talking. So it’s a risk that could go badly or well for the brands.”

Recently we’ve seen Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley (68) starring in two Santam adverts. Last year Jamie Foxx dashed into the country to shoot an ad for Oude Meester brandy, while hip-hop has-beens Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer cashed in on Castle Lite adverts in 2010.

And who can forget Louis Gossert Jr telling some hapless sap that “We don’t drink pink drinks” in a Windhoek Lager ad?

Gaenor Becker of Gaenor Management said she didn’t “have a problem” with internationals coming to South Africa.

“I just wish the same VIP treatment was offered to our local actors because advertisers tend to underpay or say they have a small budget when dealing with locals. In this way we can build our own stars into the celebrities we want them to be,” she said.

Zungu added: “In Japan they use relevant stars. But we have old stars like MC Hammer, and I’m not too sure what he does for the advert. It gets the audience talking about the star and where he’s been, but not so much about the brand.”

South Africa is following closely in the footsteps of Japan, which has seen a diverse group of Hollywood stars like Leonardo Di Caprio, Cameron Diaz, Madonna and Celine Dion selling products for them.

We’re waiting to see who will be the next “Big in SA”. The Hoff, anyone?

» How do you rate these “Big in SA” adverts?

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