USAID: Changing Conversations


Published in Aurora Magazine

By Ayesha Hoda

In an attempt at transparency and rebuttal of myths about US assistance, an ad campaign ‘Roshan Pakistan’ (Brighter Pakistan) was launched by USAID in May this year.

The campaign apprised us of the role of USAID, a US government agency which provides development assistance to countries around the world, including Pakistan. Over the years, USAID has been active in various sectors and socio-economic programs designed to impact hundreds of communities across the country.

The organization has only recently started focusing on directly and heavily advertising its assistance in Pakistan. USAID spends less than 0.5% of its annual budget on public communications efforts. It was only in early 2011 that it conducted the first large-scale ad campaign although it has been advertising for several years in other countries like Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Bolivia and Egypt. In Pakistan, USAID has previously advertised causes such as enrolment in modern teacher education programs, tourism revival in Swat and energy efficiency efforts.

Roshan Pakistan is the largest USAID ad campaign, not only in Pakistan but all over the world. Communications Specialist at USAID Pakistan, Virginija Morgan says that this is an effort to increase transparency and accountability.

“I am sure you have heard people of this country questioning how exactly US assistance is being used,” she says. “Advertising campaigns such as these help answer this question. Since the start of the campaign, we have heard many of our counterparts, and even people we meet in various communities, thank us for explaining what assistance is being provided to their country on behalf of the American people.”

Only a handful of people in Pakistan – government organizations, NGOs and teams of experts – deal with USAID directly. Hence, a need to utilize mass media tools was identified to reach out to the people who are experiencing the benefits of US funded programs in their lives. The primary target audience is thus SEC C, D and E, while A and B are secondary.

The campaign, whose concept was born in early 2012, was created by Interflow. The agency has been engaged with USAID indirectly for many years for other projects such as Key Social Marketing, PAIMAN, Abt. Associates etc. For Roshan Pakistan, Interflow was however contracted as a partner under the banner of the Public Communications Project (PCP).

Syed Atif Saeed, Group Account Director (Designated Director Operations for PCP) at Interflow, reveals that the umbrella concept/strategy of the campaign was “Roshan Pakistan”, selected on evidence based procedures through research.

“The rationale behind this is that everyone wants a ‘Roshan Pakistan’. The three areas USAID spends immensely on are education, poverty alleviation and energy. All these focused areas synergize with the umbrella concept aptly,” he says.

The campaign was run in three phases. According to Interflow, Phase I (May and June) consisted of information and education communication component (IEC), that is, it familiarized people with the development initiatives USAID has taken in Pakistan. The introductory print ad tells us how USAID is trying to achieve a Brighter Pakistan. The other print ads focus directly on education, energy and poverty alleviation, with detailed copy which sheds light on the areas and projects USAID has invested in. The second phase (August and September) ads are a combination of IEC and Behavioral Change Communication (BCC). This is a thematic campaign which was geared towards building an emotional connection between Americans and Pakistanis, by depicting friendship, tolerance and highlighting the contributions of USAID employees.

For Phase three (October – November), the agency tweaked and made some adjustments in the earlier communications based on feedback received. For example, research revealed that people often watch television by switching off/lowering the volume so written text in the form of pop-ups was introduced on the screen. The print ads in this phase were not too different except for some changes in copy.

Roshan Pakistan stands apart from other social development campaigns of NGOs and youth groups as it does not ask for donations or volunteering support or talk about patriotism or any cause in detail. It merely talks about USAID activities in certain sectors, what positive changes these can bring and Pak-American friendship. This serves the purpose of the campaign since the objective here is not to market any particular cause or program.

The TVCs and radio spots are in the same vein as the print ads but they tell a story: the story of making a difference through assistance and joint efforts. Three of the ads are based on common Pakistanis and their daily issues, which can be resolved by improving literacy, providing energy and employment opportunities to the less privileged. The main thematic ad shows USAID workers mingling with local citizens. Whether this has generated a wave of positive sentiment or not is debatable.

Unlike other local and international social sector campaigns, Roshan Pakistan also does not present anyone as a victim in need of assistance – no images of extreme poverty, dismal living conditions, children out of school etc. – and neither portrays development as a simple process by promising instant change. Watching it for the first time, you might think it is an ad for a telco or an FMCG brand. But the TVCs have the ability to draw you in. What works for the print ads are the examples of the large projects USAID has undertaken or invested in over the years.

The campaign was run on a 360 degree basis, including outdoor, TV, cable, cinema, print, radio and digital mediums. It was a nationwide initiative. The first year’s KPI was to raise the awareness level from 8 to 12 percent. The second year’s objective is to take it to 24 percent.

However, against the volatile political backdrop and anti-US sentiments of the public, the campaign, its entire look and feel, can seem highly optimistic, especially with regard to relations between common citizens and their American counterparts.

“In general terms the campaign was launched with a lot of apprehension and fear of backlash,” shares Atif. “But no noteable negative feedback has reached us. In terms of statistics, key performance indicator of raising awareness by 50 percent has been achieved.”

Virginija Morgan adds to this by mentioning that they are already witnessing the impact of Roshan Pakistan as dinner table conversations in many households have moved towards the importance of education, job training and energy efforts; people are showing an interest in replicating some of the initiatives.

The campaign is still at a nascent stage and as with any such awareness/image building campaign, significant impact can only be visible after subsequent reinforcements of the messages. Therefore, USAID plans to continue the campaign in the future.

PRESS RELEASE: Farah Leghari’s big comeback!

Farah Leghari has made a comeback (after four years) with her unique and elegant lawn prints. ImageThe credit of bringing Farah Leghari back into the world of style and fashion goes to Gohar Textiles Mills, a Faisalabad based company.

Farah Leghari’s collection has six distinct designs. Amongst her most popular designs are the ones infused with rich jeweled colours.

“This collection celebrates the femme fatale in all of us. Having designed for Royalty, I aspire to make each one of you feel like a ‘princess’ in my creation,” says Farah.

Farah has also participated in numerous fashion shows around the world and helped organize fundraisers abroad for charities like The Citizens Foundation.

Going tomatoes

By Ayesha Hoda

Published in Aurora Magazine (September – October 2012 issue)


The ketchup category has seen advertising activity recently and there are lots of tomatoes to be found whether you switch on the TV or look at a billboard.

The story of tomato ketchup in Pakistan began with Mitchell’s – a food brand that dates back to the 30s. The category has changed significantly since and more brands have entered the market. Today, the category is populated by names such as Bake Parlor, Knorr, Mitchell’s, National Foods, Shangrila, Shezan, and international brands like Heinz.

According to Adnan Malik, Head of Marketing, National Foods, the tomato ketchup category is worth three billion rupees (Source: A C Nielsen) and his brand accounts for 51% of the share. He says that there is a 70% penetration of this category in consumer segments A1, A2, B and C. In sharp contrast, the penetration levels go down to 30-40% in B, C and E.

Since the 90s the strategies for ketchup brands have evolved. Inflation and the economic downturn have seen cuts in consumer spending and brands have turned to offering their customers convenience and economy.

To this end, Shangrila (established in the late 80s) introduced a 100g sachet in the late 90s and became the first company to launch pouch packaging, a development that raised the bar among competitors and also brought the price down, helping develop a market for ketchup among a wider public.

National Foods quickly followed suit and today claims to be the leader in this format. Pouches account for 60% of the company’s sales and even consumers who are not price sensitive and previously preferred bottles, have accepted pouches due to their convenience.

At Mitchell’s, although concentration on pouches has recently increased, glass bottles still account for a 40-50% share of their sales.

Pouches come iin three sizes: 800g, 400g and 250g, and glass bottles in two: 500g and 280g. For all the brands the large (800g) pouch is priced at about Rs 150 whereas the large (500g) bottle is about 10-15 rupees cheaper. However, there is a smaller quantity of ketchup in the bottle, therefore by paying a little extra, consumers get more ketchup, making the pouch more economical.

Most ketchup brands are concentrating on younger consumers, because, says Malik, “We are a a young nation and the trend of having snacks with ketchup is growing.”

However, a major challenge is to ensure that the brand appeals to everyne, including housewives and other influencers.

In terms of advertising strategy, National Foods, Shangrila and Mitchell’s all seem to be focusing focusing on the main ingredient – tomatoes.

National Foods originally positioned (before 2008) their proposition around fun. However, in 2008, the package design was changed to emphasise the fact that the product was made from 100% pure tomatoes, with the focus of the communication turning towards flavour and purity of the ingredients. The company’s recent ad campaign is also based on ‘The real tomato experience’.

According to ad agency IAL Saatchi and Saatchi (National Foods’ creative agency), the new campaign capitalises on benefits such as purity, quality, convenience and economy through tempting shots of food and tomatoes. The campaign was leveraged to television, retail level (POS) and gondola/displays at shops.

Shangrila leverages print and outdoor and does not advertise on TV or radio as the company believes it is against sharia’h to do so, which is why, according to Erfan Mirza, Brand Manager, Shangrila, the brand has a low share of voice compared to its competitors. Yest, he says that Shangrila is still considered Pakistan’s number one tomato ketchup.

Compared to National Foods and Shangrila, Mitchell’s ad spend was relatively low until about three years ago, because of a focus on infrastructure development. However, advertising activity has picked up since. Zakria Fawad, Account Manager, Lowe & Rauf (Mitchell’s creative agency), says the current ad campaign for Mitchell’s tomato ketchup (Bin khaye raha na jaye  – originally released in 2010) stresses the fact that the product is made from the highest quantity of tomato pulp.

Fawad adds that “strategically, we decided to target the younger age group as they are the primary users/influencers but we also incorporated the primary buyer, the mother.”

In addition to the TVC, Mitchell’s is exploring non-traditional marketing avenues. It currently sponsors a food magazine called Chef Special and Chef Zakir’s annual cookbook. The brand has also opted for content integration on Dawat on Masala TV.

Faiza Iqtadar, Media Planner at Maxus Global (Mitchell’s media agency) says, “The brand’s media strategy is to increase awareness, create recall and promote its discounted offer.”

Overall, things look good for the ketchup brands. All the major players have become more aggressive on the marketing front and the size of the market is growing simultaneously. These brands are also looking to explore more consumer segments. Hamid Mukhtar, Assistant Brand Manager, Mitchell’s Grocery Products, for example, says that Mitchell’s has recently changed their penetration strategy from A+ and A consumers to target people in the B and B+ range.

However, as more ketchup brands are providing more options to snack lovers, the big brands may need to think of new ways to differentiate their product apart from the claim of being ‘natural’. They will also have to come up with more innovative media mixes to remain relevant and appeal to various consumer segments.

An evening in the world of Pakistani fashion – #FPW 2012

It was such a relief to get away from the all the news and images of extremism and violence we are bombarded with every day. Attended Day 2 of the biggest fashion event in the country a.k.a. Fashion Pakistan Week 2012. Here’s a photo story of what I liked:

The designers assemble…

Debenhams is probably my new favourite for western clothing! Contemporary, smart, classy… Photo Courtesy: HocusFocus

Loved this collection by Aneeka and Salma Cheema, which combined imprints of Chitral with western styling. These were clothes you can easily picture yourself wearing on various social occasions. Photo Courtesy: HocusFocus

Sanam Chaudhri’s new collection ‘Kage’ was inspired by Shibori, a Japanese resist-dye technique. Loved seeing how Pakistani designers are seeking inspiration from textile design in other cultures. Photo Courtesy: Catalyst PR

The Noodle House @ PC

Last week I had the opportunity to try out South East Asian cuisine for the first time (I’ve only had Thai food a few times before this).

Instead of a typical PR event – like the corporate ones I am used to and was expecting – this was a more informal and entertaining one, where each guest was allowed to order food of their choice. So I got a chance to try out a number of dishes with some fellow bloggers and foodies.

Wok fried honey and sesame chicken

There were specialties from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Shanghai, Bangkok and Jakarta.

This is the first outlet of Noodle House in Karachi. Its first restaurant in Pakistan was opened in Lahore last year. According to the official press release, it’s an international brand launched in 2002, which has a number of restaurants in the Middle East.

Overall, it was a good and different dining experience (with an open kitchen and modern interiors). Anyone heading to Pearl Continental in Karachi should try it out. My favorite dish from amongst the ones I tried – also had Wasabi Prawn, vegetable fried rice, Thai beef salad with Nam Jim dressing and Chicken satay with peanut sauce – turned out to be this:

Thai chicken with cashew nut

Let’s Gtalk!

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth” – Oscar Wilde

DAWN Inpaper Magazine | 12th August, 2012

Originally published here.

Young people are finding it easier to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences in life online

“I am at this new café in #Karachi having the best chocolate mousse cake ever!” — says the latest tweet on my Twitter timeline as I begin to write this article.

The online world can be very superficial at times, giving people a chance to brag about their consumerism. Facebook updates of exotic travel photos and restaurant check-ins are enough to make anyone delirious with envy. No wonder that some research studies reveal how over-connectedness may actually increase feelings of loneliness and mood swings.

While I agree with this downside of online interactions, I’ve also observed a rather positive aspect of the cyberspace in the last couple of years as Pakistanis have become more active online. Through personal experiences and by talking to young, internet savvy people around me, I’ve realised that often active users of social networks and chat programs use these platforms to vent out and express their true feelings.

Here I am not referring to anonymous websites (where people post their dark secrets on message boards) or blogging, but to personal interactions with people you are acquainted with or may have met in real life — that random person in college who will always say hello or someone you met at a picnic and later added on Facebook. Face to face, the conversation will generally not move beyond subjects of mutual interest. But you often see a different side of these people online.

Though there is a lot of room for exaggeration and dishonesty online, young people do seem more comfortable sharing their thoughts over controversial subjects or issues in their own lives over the internet.

In this context, I’m reminded of what Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”. Today the internet seems to be that mask — you’re connected but there is still a safe distance. And this is not only the case with introverts or shy people. At times people are looking for internet catharsis or advice. There have been instances where I’ve played an agony aunt-type role with classmates or acquaintances choosing to share their personal issues on chat programs.

This might be because as a society we are still not open to counselling, social support groups or simply talking about subjects like divorce, child abuse, therapy, mental health, etc. on a personal level as opposed to general discussions or gossip. Log on to Twitter and you will see people sharing their personal stories. Tweet about emotions, relationships and life experiences, and voila, strangers will tell you how you’re not alone and start sharing their own hopes, dreams and miseries with you.

“Often social media has been my only respite and I love it for that!” reveals Huma Iqbal, a communications professional. “I vent out, get angry, use swear words and sometimes even thrash people online for being mean to me. These are things I might not do in real life when I’m angry and I get a mixed response. Some friends encourage me whereas others send me texts or emails to stop sharing so much online and to be cautious about online security.”

Due to security and privacy concerns, some people find creative ways to vent their feelings without giving away too much information. Taha Kehar, a 20-year-old law student, says: “Whenever I have taken the conscious decision to vent over Facebook/Twitter, it has either been through a cryptic status or a couplet that encompasses my distress. I think it takes a very perceptive individual to understand my exact emotions in such circumstances. So overall the response has been favourable.
More often than not, people do not leave bizarre comments. With time, they have learnt to give each other some personal space online.”

Tehreem Mehmood, who works for an ad agency in Karachi, says she likes becoming friends with people online though these friendships may not always last long. “But letting out everything in front of someone is such a relief,” she adds. “I have one internet friend, who I’ve met only once in real life but we help each other solve problems. Even when we fail to solve problems we can at least listen to each other. We realise that the most important aspect of this online friendship is confidentiality so we are good at guarding secrets and trust each other.”

At times the trust or friendship may be an illusion, or it may be a one-off experience where a person needs a non-judgmental, listening ear in a particular situation, but the internet certainly helps fill a void for many. If nothing else, it reassures you that you’re not alone in melancholy.

10 things I love about Grey’s Anatomy

Published on Express Tribune Blogs

Original Link

I was never really fond of medical dramas, but after a friend’s recommendation, I started watching Grey’s Anatomy and was instantly hooked to the show.

With the seventh season currently being aired on ABC (which several of my friends follow religiously on the internet), here’s a list of ten things I love about the show:

1. The play of words: Dialogues were the first thing I liked about Grey’s. Emotional, funny, close to life – many strike a chord and are easy to recall (‘the truth freakin’ hurts’). Hence, apart from following the seasons, I have been an active user of Addicted to Grey’s Anatomy application (quotes section) on Facebook.

2. Meredith Grey: Played by Ellen Pompeo, she is pretty and vulnerable. You feel like protecting her and at times, knocking some sense into her. Emotionally distressed most of the time (in her ‘dark, twisted corner’), she is still more lovable and consistent than Christina, Izzie and the other characters.

3. Derek Shepherd: Even though several people who I’ve asked, like Mark Sloan (Eric Dane) more, particularly in seasons five and six, my personal favourite remains Derek (Patrick Dempsey). The Chief of Surgery in the sixth season and Meredith’s husband, he is the kind of guy you would trust and want to be with.

4. Life is one long song: According to Mark Kimson of The Guardian, Grey’s Anatomy has popularised the “songtage” or musical montage segments. The music gives the necessary breathing space to viewers, amidst all the drama, while generating positive publicity for the tracks used. I am not a regular listener of English albums but began enjoying The Fray‘s “How to Save a Life” after I heard it on the show.

5. There is no solution for life and death, save to enjoy the interval: It is wonderful how humour is entwined with the serious medical cases and life-and-death situations depicted, especially in the first few seasons. The characters continuously compare what is happening in their troubled personal or love lives with the pain and suffering they witness every day at the hospital. They frequently laugh at each other and at themselves, enjoying mundane things.

6. Unpredictability: It’s generally hard to guess what is going to happen next: whether a certain patient will survive or not; a couple might break up or that bomb inside a patient’s body might just explode! I often find myself sitting on the edge of the couch, actually praying for things to turn out right.

7. The Mc-nicknames – Dr Derek Shepherd (McDreamy) and Dr Mark Sloan (McSteamy) are nicknamed by Meredith’s circle of friends based on their good looks and attitude. These add an interesting and fun element to the show.

8. Unique medical cases: Even though I can barely watch the surgeries and blood often shown, some of the cases are quite interesting and inform you about a number of rare diseases and ailments. They make you shudder but you still want to know how the doctors are going to find a cure. I’ve seen several people, on their way to becoming doctors, follow the show closely.

9. The ‘soap’ factor: Despite the continuous portrayal of disease and death, this American drama retains the soap opera quality of inconsistency, in terms of storyline, death of characters no longer wanted on the show, the continuous back-and-forth in Meredith and Derek’s relationship and even changes in sexual orientation of characters – If nothing else these aspects help one remember that it is only drama!

10. Seattle Grace: This fictional hospital, based in Seattle in the show, seems to be full of cute and highly competent surgeons, apart from having a handsome, large building and state-of-the-art technology. No wonder there is a Facebook group called ‘If I Ever Need Surgery – Take me to Seattle Grace Please.’