Soul Sister Pakistan funds Talk Show

All-ladies Facebook group, Soul Sisters Pakistan raises CA $46,161 as funda for digitalk talk show.

KARACHI: The third season of Conversations with Kanwal (CWK) has raised CA$46,161 (Rs5.6 million) from a Kickstarter campaign supported by Soul Sisters Pakistan members in a departure from conventional media models.

Soul Sisters Pakistan founder Kanwal Ahmed spoke to Benefit about the circumstances leading to a crowdfunding path, given the existence of the subjects covered by CWK and the pandemic triggered recession of 2020.

A variety of subjects covered the digital-first talk show, which released its first episode in April2019: from the absence of female education and job opportunities to dowery, rape, assault and domestic violence expectations. The first season was sponsored by Facebook’s $50,000 grant, while advertisers and agencies focused on the second season.

Kanwal Ahmed said, “The topics I want to talk about aren’t traditional topics that are discussed widely in the media. Things like domestic violence, online harassment, colourism – all of these topics are number one presented in a very different light because domestic violence, for example, is normalised on Pakistani media – you see women being slapped on the screens all the time. And women being presented in very dehumanising roles.”

She further stated, “The topics I want to talk about aren’t traditional topics that are discussed widely in the media. Things like domestic violence, online harassment, colourism – all of these topics are number one presented in a very different light because domestic violence, for example, is normalised on Pakistani media – you see women being slapped on the screens all the time. And women being presented in very dehumanising roles.”

She added that her show covered colorism, which goes against the flow of conventional media, in view of fairness creams and morning shows doling out tips on skin whitening. She told Profit that in 2016 and2017, when she pitched the show concept to advertising outlets, they told her that the show would have no audience and no advertiser would want to partner with a forum that discusses real women’s issues.

Kanwal noted that with Covid-19 and the recession it triggered, advertisers were shifting or redirecting budgets towards measures of corporate responsibility that would reduce the strain caused by the pandemic. Benefit claims in talking to Kanwal that the key reason advertisers did not support the show for the third season was a lack of appreciation of the disparity between her background and the morning shows they are used to.

“When I got the Facebook grant, launched the show, and earned over 15 million views, I realised that despite what some may say, people want to watch this,” she added. “So I went back to brands by season two with the proof of concept – people like this, they can relate to it, so why would they not want to watch it? So for season two, I was able to get two great sponsors on board – Shan Foods and Keune Haircosmetics – and we were able to shoot the second season as well which was a great success, covering topics such as single fatherhood, female foeticide, postpartum depression, step parenting, all of these things.”

“By July and August things began to stabilize again,” said Kanwal. “I literally reached out to media agencies to help me get through to brands. But the kinds of responses we were getting from the companies were not aligned with my vision. So for example, adding some sort of segment – like a beauty segment or a laundry segment or a rapid fire segment – to a show like this did not make sense for me.”

Readers now need to close their eyes and picture a show that deconstructs Pakistan’s pervasive reality of domestic abuse, only to segway in a segment about the use of XYZ fairness cream to highlight attractiveness. If this sounds out of place, rest assured that it does not remain on the storyboard as an inane concept. Only watch broadcasts and dramas of branded television.

“One of the brands for example requested to have their product placed on the table,” said Kanwal. “Their lifestyle product – it was not a cup of tea or was it a coffee – that would be contextually relevant to have on a table while two people talk. And on the table, they wanted a lifestyle product around beauty or haircare. Would it be contextually relevant to place a box of soap on the table during a serious topic? Do I have to go all Waseem Badami and gather boxes of products around my table? It’s a very authentic and organic show – I reverted with the recommendation to brand it with ‘XYZ presents CWK’.”

CPG marketers requested Kanwal to add a washing dishes section, while an Eastern apparel brand decided to use CWK to whitewash a recent employee harassment dispute by asking Kanwal to interview the sponsor’s employees to talk about their positive working experiences.

“My topics were often labeled as dark,” said Kanwal. “Whereas I don’t think they’re dark: they’re actually full of light, they’re full of hope, they’re giving people a reason to relate to somebody else’s struggle and understand that they are not alone and most of all these topics were seemingly creating impact from the feedback that we were getting.” She further added, “I don’t blame brands directly or the people working for them. A lot of them have global guidelines that they have to stick by or the regional guidelines. I just feel like the content in India is so much more progressive and I don’t understand why we cannot have the same level of authenticity and openness here. On YouTube, 46pc of my audience is coming from India because Indians were absolutely thrilled with the show.”

Advertisers’ negative feedback about having to throttle creative power and micromanage the material prompted Kanwal to postpone doing the show’s third season at all in the midst of declining funds. She told Profit that it was when members reached out with the intent to crowdfund the show that she set up a Kickstarter page and saw nearly CA$ 50,000 roll in to date, crushing her goal of CA$ 35,000.

A double Standard SeeHer Story, a digital video series by the Meredith Corporation and Katie Couric Media that features brief digital vignettes of female trailblazers and rule breakers from the past 100 years to the present day is a similar platform in its purpose and final message. With almost 14 million views and 860 million social impressions in its first season, SeeHer Plot, albeit with geographical differences, has the same scope as CWK. Unilever USA has funded the second SeeHer Story season.

“It is so important to amplify the voices and stories of strong women – both from current times and the past – who have helped shape our culture and change it for the better,” said Rob Master, VP of Media and Engagement, Unilever. “We are thrilled to partner with Katie Couric and Meredith’s PEOPLE for Season 2 of SeeHer Story and use our platforms to shine a spotlight on these incredible women and their contributions to society.”

Former Unilever chief marketing officer Keith Weed also spoke at an all-white panel at Cannes in 2018 about how necessary it was for the consumer goods industry to promote and amplify powerful women’s voices and stories.

Led by the National Advertisers Association (ANA), SeeHer is a coalition of leading marketers dedicated to developing and promoting content that depicts women and girls as they really are. Unilever joined the organization in 2016 to counter an implicit bias that exists in advertising, media, and programming toward women and girls.

A seasoned marketing professional, Speaking with Benefit, shared that there is little action to indicate that Unilever has made efforts in the Pakistan market to promote content that depicts women and girls as they really are, with the exception of rebranding Fair & Lovely to Glow & Lovely. This means continuing the ads, newspapers, and programming of sponsors depicting equal women: whether they are actresses, reporters, or anchors.

Though GroupM ESP’s advertiser supported projects (AFP) such as Meray Dost Meray Yaar (MDMY) have been renewed for a second season, they do so because the client is as interested as the media agency and production house in the final performance.

When a biscuit appears in the middle of an MDMY scene, it has contextual significance. They fall short when AFPs lack contextual significance, trying to sell rather than entertain. Remarkable examples are Velo Sound Station, Easypaisa Raahi, Bisconni Kitchen Edition and National Ketchup Factory.