Back in 2015, shaadi.com came up with 'Dowry Calculator', a prank highlighting the issue of dowry deaths by promising to reveal the market value of prospective grooms. Cut to 2018, Zee TV has addressed the business of marriage in its #ChangeHerNot campaign for its recently released show, 'Kaleerein', which deals with the topic of bride-grooming schools and has Arjit Taneja and Aditi Sharma in lead roles.
It all started when Zee TV created a make-believe website and convinced aviator, actor, producer and entrepreneur, Gul Panag to tweet against the same. This fictional website - MySoniKudi.com - projected itself as an Indian portal which provides custom-made brides. The website objectified women by compartmentalising them in multiple cringe-worthy segments like 'Wonder Chef', 'Bachat Focused', 'Agyakari', 'Gharelu', and 'Sansakari', among other stereotypical tags which are associated with a 'perfect' Indian bride. Panag's tweet resonated with the masses and shortly after, the #ChangeHerNot hashtag started trending on Twitter.
https://t.co/bGpzq4OD1k— Gul Panag (@GulPanag) January 29, 2018
So, a portal that has brides on display😶
Pick from Sanskari, Agyakaari, NRI-ready, etc!
If this doesn't make us cringe, what will? Why is it expected out of women to fit into these 'types'? Do we really need to change just to get married? #ChangeHerNot pic.twitter.com/9uwTjvRcSi
Deepak Rajadhyaksha, deputy business head, Zee TV, says, "It started with the insight that in India, to be 'marriageable', a woman has to be a certain way. Some want a 'Gharelu' bride, while others want a trophy-wife. For some, fair skin is non-negotiable, while others will only look at girls who will give up their careers after marriage. This is a harsh social reality and we wanted to nudge the audience to question these age-old shackles and drive home the point, albeit in a non-preachy manner."
Glad to see the outrage on https://t.co/em9pblO0Np. While the site isn't real, the issue is. It was a social media experiment by @zeetv & me, to mirror a harsh social reality-unfair expectations from girls to change themselves for marriage. Time for a conversation #ChangeHerNot https://t.co/tpcnSIcXnB— Gul Panag (@GulPanag) January 30, 2018
While Panag's rant found support from the online community, 3422 prospective grooms actually registered on the website. "The idea was to mirror a harsh social reality. Despite real registrations on the website, the outrage against it was exponential and that was heartening," adds Rajadhyaksha.
Reportedly, the #ChangeHerNot campaign fetched four times the conversations that a regular campaign of the channel garners. Moreover, Panag ended up receiving multiple queries on what this "appalling website was all about" and people even reached out to the website developer in order to express their dissatisfaction with the website.
Zee TV intended to create an outrageous, yet believable, website which would compel people to raise their voices. The dual challenge of maintaining a fine balance between authenticity and absurdity was crucial or else people would have called their bluff. Rajadhyaksha shares, "While we were conscious about building authenticity in terms of visuals for the website during the first leg of the campaign, our focus stayed firm on the conversations about objectifying brides that we were planning to build once the reality of the website was revealed. We worked closely with our digital agency, Big Trunk, to curate the website." The website features models as prospective brides with their identities changed.
Two years back, McCann Paris conceptualised a similar campaign for the French charity, Mouvement du Nid. The agency created a fake escort website (Girls of Paradise) in order to highlight the dark side of commercial sex work. While the website appeared to be authentic, a majority of the girls listed on it were dead and their disturbing stories were narrated to prospective clients. Such was the impact of this campaign that it ended up influencing the French Parliament into passing a law that criminalises clients for prostitution.
However, the #ChangeHerNot campaign is a marketing tactic to promote the show 'Kaleerein' and so one wonders about why the channel didn't look to conventional avenues of communication? Rajadhyaksha explains, "In today's day and age when the entire country is moving towards a more equality-based outlook, grooming schools for brides take our society one step behind. To bring to light the outrage behind the very existence of such establishments, it was important for us to create a hard-hitting and impactful campaign, beyond the traditional."
But wasn't this a rather tricky way of launching a show? "Our objective was to trigger the debate, so we came up with the website to serve as a strong trigger for conversations around the core subject of 'Kaleerein'. There is a lot of thought that goes behind every campaign and with every campaign we have launched post 'Aaj Likhenge Kal', we try and incorporate elements of innovation that can serve as a platform for conversation. Be it the 'No License to Love' campaign for 'Aap Ke Aa Jaane Se' or curating customised merchandise for the 'Souled Store' as a part of the brand extension for 'Dance India Dance', our constant endeavour has been to do something different and thought-provoking," states Rajadhyaksha.
The campaign's touchpoints included individuals who are active on digital platforms, particularly men. Not to forget, it is widely perceived that a Hindi GEC's TG is tier II and III city women who may not be very Twitter-friendly. Hence, how does this move of engaging an online community work when the core audience seems to have been left out?
Rajadhyaksha elucidates, "The website promotion was designed in such a manner that it tickled the males into signing up for it and compelled the females to recoil in shock. So our campaign surely took care of our core TG. That's also the reason why we chose Gul Panag to be the mouthpiece for this campaign. When a woman expresses outrage towards societal injustice, especially on social media, her voice cannot be quashed."
Speaking about the gender demographics, Rajadhyaksha informs, "A show airing on a Hindi GEC doesn't target only a female audience - there's a mixed bag of viewers including men and youth who consume the show."