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Period of Pride, a collaborative social change campaign initiated by Whisper and Network 18 won awards in several categories in the recently completed BuzzinContent annual awards. 

At first glance, the campaign has all the ingredients required for a cause marketing effort. A worthy social cause – young girls' menstrual and reproductive health, removing ignorance and misinformation via education, removing fear, shame and taboo and replacing it with confidence, an effort to create a partnership between brands and government, a coming together of a product brand with a media brand. A match made in heaven at all levels. 

The campaign’s objectives are clearly outlined on the Whisper website as well as the TV18 website.  The scale of the problem is outlined first - of poor menstrual hygiene arising from ignorance as well as limited access to sanitary protection products, age old taboos, ritual practices and fear/shame of young girls across rural India, even after multiple decades of concerted effort by governments, NGOs and product brands. An immediate and actionable solution is proposed: to petition state governments to include period education as part of the curriculum. 

P&G company/Whisper brand’s research studies among young girls in rural India reveal the extent of ignorance of young girls about menstruation and menstrual hygiene. Large parts of rural India are still shackled by caste/tribe/community based cultural practices linked to the ‘coming of age’ of a young girl when she has her first period. These practices, instead of creating confidence in young girls enhance their fears and confusion. Social isolation and exclusion oriented practices often result in girls dropping out of school either temporarily or even permanently after they get their periods.

The short term goal of the campaign is to petition governments to include menstrual hygiene into the biology curriculum and get the subject taught in school. The longer-term intent of such change is to ‘reframe’ periods as a biological phenomenon, part of the normal transition to adulthood of a female of the species and to remove the ‘cultural’ framing of periods on the basis of community mores and practices.  The intent is to ‘normalise’ conversations around periods, removing the awkwardness and shame around the topic. 

So far, typical social change campaigns have been carried out by brands, in order to create conditions suitable for the growth of their business. Most marketers and brand managers are familiar with a myriad of such campaigns.

To us at Leapfrog, what was more interesting in the campaign website was the bringing together of activists, celebrities, young students and others who are also stakeholders in the larger goal. In other words, the campaign provided an umbrella and a support structure for multiple stakeholders to gain a voice and garner strength for the mission.

The mandatory voice of celebrities to bring more awareness and social aura to the campaign.

More interestingly, social activists working in this area, like Priyanka Paul who works in Assam with tribal and faraway communities, documenting their cultural practices, at the same time introducing modern ideas to students in classrooms. The campaign funds the making of an 18-minute video, cataloguing the rituals and practices of the tribal cultures of Assam.

Finally, a team of urban school children taking up the cause, both boys and girls willing to face up to ridicule and comments by their classmates and others, but wanting to make a difference to society, to create a better future for the young girls of India.

Whisper in this instance is taking on an activist stance vis-à-vis the dominant culture to bring about social change. In our e-book (download here), we have put forward a framework for assessing branded content as cultural discourse. In the book, we have identified the five different stances that brands can take with respect to the cultural discourse that they create. One of them is definitely the activist stance.

Within an activist stance, brands have to choose a tonality (strident, empathetic, sympathetic) and the types of signs and symbols that they would use – are they mirroring or are they aspirational.  Mirroring the lived realities of the culture aims for trust via instinctive connection due to familiarity and understanding and through that trust, opens up the space for alternative ideas and messages to enter the audience’s mind space.

What we can observe in the various pieces of content and symbolism featured on the campaign website is a blend of different types of tonalities. The campaign’s symbol is assertive and almost strident in indicating the campaign’s intent of women’s empowerment. The clenched fist is a very well-established symbol of fighting intent, in the activist world. Be it workers or marginalised communities, the clenched fist indicates the intent of these communities to fight for their rights. 

With this campaign symbol, the intent to belong to the space of activism, fighting for rights and the unhesitant assertion is well established.

The imparting of information about the status of girls in rural India vis-à-vis menstruation and reproductive health is aimed at persuading the educated, urban public and the activists’ network to take up the cause. The intent is to persuade through facts rather than trigger emotion through ideology. Hence, the tonality is more matter-of-fact than strident.

When celebrities speak for the cause, they can be more aggressive or strident in establishing the ideal of how society ought to be for girls and women. The tone is more uncompromising here.

Whereas, when videos reveal what is actually happening in rural communities, the lens is more empathetic and sympathetic to document their customs and lived realities. Here, the aim is to create content with a tone that will win the trust of the communities themselves so that they are willing to embrace change for their daughters. The aim is to make village elders and mothers understand the emotions of their daughters and support them to embrace a future as modern women, a newer generation that benefits from scientific knowledge and technology.

In conclusion, a deeper and closer study of this campaign reveals why it is prize-worthy. It reveals the multiplicity of elements in the campaign that come together into a coherent whole. What is most innovative are the multiple tonalities adopted within the campaign for different content pieces to contribute to the cultural discourse in different ways. This acceptance of multiplicity within the campaign reveals that the campaign creators and brand owners are fully cognisant and accepting of the difference between branded content (an audience-first approach) and advertising (brand-first approach).