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Sponsorship is a good way for brands to associate with content without creating it. But simply because one is not creating content doesn’t mean that one cannot engage with meaningful content. Typically, brand fit with content is explored by a matching of brand attributes with content attributes. This is a somewhat simplistic associative approach to matching. A better approach is based on a cultural decoding of the content, unpacking the layers of meaning embedded in the content, and then matching it to the brand’s own take on the topic.

Today, we take the example of Marvel Entertainment’s latest show- Ms. Marvel to understand how to look for embedded meaning within a particular show or series with the intention of associating with it via sponsorship. We have picked a woman-centric show since a large number of brands sell to women and women are their key target audience.

To start with, Ms. Marvel is about a teenage, Muslim brown girl living in Jersey City who finds a bangle with superpowers among her family heirlooms that in turn can be traced back to British-ruled undivided India. It is based on Kamala Khan/ Ms. Marvel - a character co-created by Sana Amanat. The series makes inroads into a realistic depiction of the brown culture for people living outside and for those living back home. Sub-continental culture and people are neither caricatured nor romanticised. 

Apart from the good writing and characterisation that obviously provide the show with a solid foundation, elements such as language and music have been used in a highly relatable manner. The accents for example are quite authentic- the immigrant parents pepper their speech with phrases of Urdu/Hindi while the kids are more Americanised in that regard. 

The show has a rich background score that really tries to capture the diversity that marks the sub-continent. One can hear timeless hits of Noor Jahan as well as the latest songs like Pasoori by Ali Sethi. There are fast-paced Rajinikanth songs that make the chase sequences interesting while those by A R Rahman and Ritviz provide for the mellow vibe. So, overall, the accompanying music hits all the right notes. While obviously, the show’s protagonist Kamala Khan and her friends are huge Marvel fans, they know their Bollywood well enough to have a discussion on the best SRK movie of all times. 

All the narratorial elements aside, why do we take the example of Ms. Marvel to explain our hypothesis vis-a-vis sponsorship. It is because of how relevant its story and characters are, culturally. 

Here is a brown Muslim girl with little self-belief who through the turn of events has been given the powers to “save the world”. Moreover, the source of her power is an antique bangle from undivided India. In creating the first superheroine, complete with a kurti, dupatta and a churidar, the show’s creators also create a mesh of intersecting identities. It shows generations of people dealing with self and perceived identities. In addition to Kamala, there are her mother and grandmother- the former an immigrant and the latter, a Pakistani woman with Indian roots. There is Kamala’s friend Nakia who is trying to figure out the meaning of being a modern Muslim woman in Jersey City. 

Kamala, as a first-generation immigrant, has to negotiate for freedom with both the outside world and the world at home. As a child of brown immigrants, she struggles with things like getting people to say her name correctly or everyday racism. At home, she has to be a good obedient girl who is not very eager to attend parties or wear skimpy outfits. 

Back home in Karachi, her maternal grandmother tries to make sense of the trauma arising from a seventy-five years old event- the Partition of India via painting. 

Even as we see an increased number of films and shows with women at the helm, the majority of films and shows in American media fail to pass the Bechdel test.  The Bechdel test, as explained in the Wikipedia article, is a measure of how much personal agency and individual identity the women characters in the show and movie are seen to have. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test). 

As we’ve seen by now, Ms. Marvel is built almost entirely on female characters. All of them strive to challenge the layers of boundaries imposed on them by society and trauma. Kamala's mother's escape to the USA or her friend Nakia's campaign to join the mosque board is similar to Kamala's own escape to the fantastical fan world of Marvel. 

Through an approach mixed with initiative and escape, brown women are shown to be forging their own path in spaces divided across time and space. It is both an inspiring as well as an inspired form of fiction since the whole idea of a "brown girl from Jersey saves the world" is already a reality with the likes of Gita Gopinath, Indira Nooyi, Sirisha Bandla, etc. occupying prestigious global positions.   

Now, to explore some additional meanings attached to the show, we must bring the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the MCU into our discussion. As mentioned before, the source of the superpower in the show comes from the subcontinent. Usually, Marvel superheroes derive their power from a myriad of places - Nordic mythology, ancient Chinese legends, scientific innovation or experiments, etc. The cosmic bangle in the show signifies a reclaiming of the narrative by the people of the sub-continent - it is legitimising the sub-continent as a place of significance.

It is as we had seen in Vice’s Unfiltered History Tour (https://www.buzzincontent.com/story/cultural-and-behavioural-change-wins-big-at-cannes-lions-2022/) - a reclaiming of the colonial narrative. The Marvel angle thus, is a contemporary take for youngsters to relate to, especially those living outside.

So, we see that Ms. Marvel as a show is a well-made exploration into cultural constructs of identities, gender and self-belief. The devices used here range from language to music to the narrative itself.  

Conclusion

We suggest that certain brands that are women-centric or brands trying to navigate the desi-NRI space or brands that believe in a strong self-identity can find a good fit with a show like Ms. Marvel, since it goes deeper than a superficial matching of brand attributes. The layers in the show manifest meanings that arise from and are relevant to the existing and increasing global-desi culture. Similarly, one can do a deep study of any given piece of content such as a show, a song, a podcast, etc. that lays out the significance of embedded cultural meaning in the narrative. 

We believe this is a better approach when it comes to associating via sponsorship because benefiting from sponsorship (apart from visibility and brand awareness) requires a transfer of associations and emotions from the content to the sponsoring brand. This transfer is not just a matter of placement but of building stronger connections from the content to the brand.

Content@BuzzInContent.com