Monday, June 08, 2009

Advertising Sexual And Reproductive Health In Pakistan: The Touch Condom Song

This is with regards to the conversation between NAA and Ahsan in the last post about Touch Condoms and their advertisements on the Geo Super online feed. Touch Condoms have been launched by Green Star, a non-profit, non-governmental organization that does a lot of good work and is most famous for the "Do Bachey Hee Achey" program.

The launch of Touch Condoms has accompanied by an impressive marketing campaign and during the last year or is its been almost impossible to get away from them. There have been ads in newspapers and on tv, posters and billboards, and even a song that has been playing on a number of channels. Its so weird seeing all these ads, its even weirder for my mother who changes the channel as soon their ad comes on! Here's the song:

Kudos to Green Star for communicating their message and programs openly and clearly rather than going for the whole nudge nudge wink wink approach. just so that we wouldn't feel uncomfortable. Many Pakistani organizations involved in the field of reproductive and sexual health are guilty of being too conservative in their approach and apppear to place a higher value on our comfort levels rather than the clarity of their message.

A case in point: Earlier this year, the Marie Stopes Society Pakistan, another organization that does some wonderful work in this area, launched a website dedicated to answering questions on sex and reproduction. They published an advertisement on the back page of the Dawn Magazine, which stated:




It was a quarter page advertisement and they couldn't find the space to write sex or reproduction even once. I can understand that NGOs are wary of offending the public, or more importantly an idiot in power, but that shouldn't prevent them from commuicating their programs.

Incidentally is a great website that offers information on sex, puberty, masturbation, rape, STDs, etc., perhaps more importantly they provide condidential online (via email) counseling on all these issues and more.
More people need to know about this website, and more people would have had Marie Stopes not chickened out of advertising the site a bit more clearly.

Pakistanis really do need to come out and talk about these issues more openly and they need access to organizations that can provide them with help, even if the help only involves explaining puberty to a 14 year old.

Pakistan has one of the worst records in the world when it comes to dealing with these issues and before we can resolve them we need to be able
to discuss them openly. The situation really is quite grim, according to the Pakistan Red Crescent Society:

Pakistan ranks behind most developing countries in the reproductive health risk index . Pakistan has one of the lowest records in female health and education and its fertility rate of 4.00 and population growth rate of 1.9 is considerably higher than other Asian countries including Bangladesh , India and Sri Lanka

One in 38 Pakistani women dies from pregnancy related causes as compared to 1 in 230 women in Sri Lanka. Almost one half of women are anemic throughout their pregnancies. Maternal mortality is estimated as 350-400 per 100000 live births.. Approximately 80% deaths are due to direct obstetric causes. Hepatitis is the most frequently cited indirect cause of maternal death. About 12% of deaths are due to induced abortion.

Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world where men outnumber women. This unfavorable ratio is mainly a consequence of excess mortality of young girls and women in the childbearing age. Infant mortality and morbidity associated with pregnancy relates conditions are high and the rate of infant mortality from all causes is one of the highest in Asia.

The extent of reproductive tract infections in Pakistan has not been documented. Studies in a comparable setting suggest that women suffer a substantial but silent burden. Reproductive tract infections including sexually transmitted diseases can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, infertility and chronic pain and also increase women’s susceptibility to HIV infection.

Cancers of the breast and reproductive tract constitute a significant proportion of cancers seen in Pakistan. A study involving 5 hospitals in 4 provinces found 19%of women had cancers of gyneacological causes. Cancer of the breast is the most common, accounting for 20% of all cases.

Women’s disproportionate poverty, low social status and reproductive role expose them to high health risks, resulting in needless suffering, many preventable deaths and disability. This unfortunate situation can no longer be ignored.


Ahsan said...

Condoms are unislamic. Death to America. Death to Israel. Death to overly preppy songs.

By the way, my favorite part of the video is the dad's knowing look at the 1:35 mark. Classic.

The song/ad is quite stupid in the sense that there is no connection between drawn between the notion of "family planning" and "condoms". I mean, people who know what the word "condom" means already know its function, and so the ad is wasted on them. And people who don't know what "condom" means are left majorly confused at the point of the ad; they probably think the ad is a for a cell phone carrier.

Philistine said...

hahahaha... dad's look is pretty classic yes, and only second to the guy seemingly spanking another guy's ass at the 0:26 mark.

But kudos to them for a job well done! I was watching a soap on ARY with my mom once and out of nowhere a touch condom advertisement came on before she could change the channel. I felt strangely triumphant.

AKS said...

@ Ahsan

I don't think the ad is entirely pointless. I agree that it doesn't tell you anything about the product - that might be a bit hard to pull off in prime time anywhere the world really. But what this ad does is show that its okay to have a mature conversation about sex without feeling ashamed and/or dirty. One of the great things about the Green Star ads is that they always highlight the importance of couples talking about these issues and then reaching a decision, this is almost never the case in Pakistan. Men talk to their friends (male, Pakistani men do not have female friends), and women talk to older women of the family, who may then refer the woman to a wise old woman in the neighborhood.

The ad also shows that condoms aren't used solely by 'loose women' and their boyfriends, that decent (good looking), married people can use condoms.

Perhaps I'm looking to much into the ad.

@ Philistine

My mother knows the ad so well now that as soon as she sees the first slide she changes the channel, or if she doesn't have the remote she'll just look away, all the while pretending like nothing happened.

batty said...

One question- why such aversion to the ad? whats wrong with it? I remember the days when people used to freak out at those "Those five days" Always ads on tv in the late 90s...then everyone grew ok with it..

khair coming back to Marie Stopes - another really great thing they did was , t2f had an aids awareness talk hosted by AIESIC (the NGO). And Marie Stopes handed out little boxes which contained a discreetly packaged condom with some other stuff... and I thought that was great cuz people don;t normally have the guts to get them.

I mean one doesnt need to condone casual sex but one certainly needs it to be safe!

bubs said...

The zenith of family ads was Javed Miandad's public service announcement that Pakistanis should have fewer kids

Philistine said...

Batty: A quote from Winona Ryder in Girl, Interrupted comes to mind: "What kind of sex isn't casual?"

AKS: Another thing that makes the ad successful is that Green Star is communicating to the people through a medium they understand and enjoy, namely Telenor type ads. The purpose of a marketing exercise is to generate interest and curiosity in the product, and I think they've managed to do that pretty well here.

Ahsan said...


I definitely think you're seeing stuff in the ad that simply isn't there. To me, it could double as an ad for (a) Ufone or Mobilink (because they talk on their cell phones for half the ad, (b) tea (too lazy to go back and watch but I'm sure they had tea at some point), (c) or mattresses (because evidently the only way to sell mattresses in Pakistan is by advertising marriage).

My point is simple: the ad tells us nothing about safe sex, about family planning or anything remotely related to public health. The only time condoms are even seen in the ad is when the husband goes grocery shopping -- people unaware of condoms probably think it's something used in cooking or something.

Look, I applaud the general idea here, but I'm just saying this ad is sort of useless toward that endeavor.

sameer khan said...

jharoos, paindoo type commercial.
most pakistanis in pakistan are uneducated and wont have the intellectual capacity to understand the gist of the message of this commercial.
BTW, another irony, the commercial is shot in what seems to be like outside of pakistan, somewhere in the west and the young actors are second generation pakistani americans, canadians, brits or wherever.

Captain03 said...

should be outlawed
our laws affect our upcoming culture

Ahsan said...


What should be outlawed? Condoms? Or ads for condoms? Or both?

gm said...

Well, the whole song sounded like a typical hindi album song for me.
"Touch" brand is shown hardly for few seconds and makes me wonder what exactly was the purpose of this song.

My fav regarding condom promotion is the one done by Indian AIDS project.

And this song was all over the place. Even in the ad TVs placed in office buildings had this aired most of the times.

Tazeen said...

The response I wrote became so long, it ended up as a post on my own blog.

Ahsan said...

AKS, please go and read Tazeen's post -- it conclusively shows me to be right and you to be wrong. As usual.

AKS said...

@ Ahsan and Tazeen

I'm basically going to paste the same post on Tazeen's blog so thought I'd post it here as well.

Tazeen thank you for the insight and I have to agree with you in that the ad would've made more sense to rural women had it more informative. But that wasn't the purpose. That's what all those family planning ads were for, and that's what lady health workers are for. I find this ad to be important and effective because it doesn't hide away from sex or from mentioning condoms.

I'm pretty sure its the first time that an ad in Pakistan has shown a man buying a condom. This is an extremely important image as it is mostly men who will buy condoms but most Pakistani men are ridiculously shy about buying condoms.

Case in point, a friend was asked by a friend of his, a MARRIED guy, if he could please go and buy lubricant for him because a) first of all he didn't know what lubricants were and b) because he was too shy to go buy it. This is a well educated married man, living in our socio-economic circles who felt ashamed asking a store clerk / pharmacist for lubricant.

Therefore, I don't think the ad was meant to educate anyone least of all rural women. It appears to be an ad that sells a lifestyle, that informs people that condoms are something one should be ashamed of.

Ahsan, sure this ad could've doubled as an ad for Ufone or Mobilink, tea or mattresses; but what's so wrong with that? In fact, isn't it great that we now have an ad that treats condoms like any other product?

@ Captain 03

What in God's name is 'upcoming culture?'

syd said...

Condoms are certainly not unislamic.
where did u hear that, and give ur reasoning.

AKS said...

Yeah Ahsan, what the hell is wrong with you. Explain yourself. And admit that you're not always right, in fact more often than not you're wrong, dead wrong!

Ahsan said...


Your argument basically boils down to: "I know this ad doesn't impact anyone who doesn't know about condoms, but isn't it great that middle class and upper class people who are embarrassed by the notion of condoms and sex will now be less embarrassed because it's in the public eye". But nobody cares about people's embarrassment levels, we care about population levels. And middle/upper class people have generally smaller families, so that point is wasted on them.

And you've misunderstood my criticism. I didn't this ad could double as an ad for cell-phones. I said this ad will be interpreted as an ad for cell phones by people who don't know what condoms are. And as Tazeen's post showed, I was correct.


I was once vacationing in Swat valley and driving through the hills, and I put on the radio, and someone on the radio said condoms are unislamic because they are a western conspiracy to keep the Muslims of the world down. So that's where I heard it, and that's my reasoning.

Philistine said...

Ahsan and Tazeen:
I don't think the purpose of this ad was to provide instruction in family planning and condom usage, therefore measuring the success of the ad in correspondence with how much the target population learned from it is a bit unfair.

Which is not to say that this kind of instruction isn't important, but I've heard from development workers and health professionals that people in Pakistan are loathe to talk about sex or protection because of the embarrassment/shame factor. As AKS pointed out, this is true even of some people in our demographic. So if this ad helps make people cringe less when someone approaches them to talk about family planning, then I reiterate, it is a job well done.

What Green Star needs to do now is capitalize on this publicity and send health workers to the field in droves, with truckloads of touch condoms, jingle playing in the background. Sort of like an ice-cream truck.

AKS, you can rest assured that this will put an end to the debate, if only because Ahsan NEVER REPLIES TO MY COMMENTS!! Posting this on Tazeen's wall too.

Ahsan said...


Haha what nonsense. I distinctly recall responding to one of your comments on the PPP/nepotism issue. Many paragraphs worth, if memory serves.

Anyway, I will respond to you the way I'm responding to AKS: it doesn't matter if this ad, as you and AKS say, makes middle/upper class people more willing to talk about condoms, because those aren't the people having 8/9 kids. For the most part. And this ad is solely and exclusively aimed at middle/upper class people.

Philistine said...

My bad, I meant barring that ONE TIME on the nepotism post.

I don't think the ad is targeted towards upper middle class people just because the demographic of the people IN the ad is upper middle class - ads for telephone services and ghee and all manner of things feature preppy upper middle class kids/ families, but clearly their target audience very much includes the low income group. Green Star is just using the upward social mobility delusion as a marketing technique, and I think it might just work seeing as how effective it's been for a lot of other brands.

Tazeen said...


As someone who has written copies of various adverts, let me tell you that the brief one gets for writing a copy is always about target audience identifying with the brand, that's why back in 1990s, Pepsi's Generation next campaign had hip and cool young people and not your average uncle and auntie. Lawrencepur clothing always had a older, successful & businessman type model and not some gadhaygaree wala. Similarly, the cheap detergent target lower middle class, hence the focus is always on saving the rupees than quality, on the other hand, the expensive detergent focuses on quality because its target market can afford the more expensive detergent. The reason for this marketing 101 was simple: any campaign sponsored by government (which in turn makes money through taxes we pay) should target the people who need to benefit from it most.

Ahsan said...

I see plugging Tazeen has had great benefits, as she has my back in this battle against AKS and Philistine. I think the two of you need to admit defeat and move on.

Philistine said...

I can see how identifying with people in the ad is one strategy used for selling consumer goods. But what about the aspirational value/ social ascendancy thing that a lot of successful ads use? In those ads, it's not that consumers identify with the characters per se, but the fact that they WANT to identify with them that sells the product.

Similarly, I think green star is trying to raise acceptability levels for (discussions about) family planning by saying "It's cool to be safe yo!" Since you're in the advertising business, I'd be interested to know why you think the aspirational appeal is a bad strategy here.

Philistine said...

hahahaha... NEVERRR!!!!

But speaking of needing to admit defeat, you might be interested in this post:

Nabeel said...

I have no set opinions about the ad.

The main criticism of it seems to be that it has failed to hit the target market.

But how do we know what the target market is? Has anyone here talked to Greenstar? What were the communication objectives? Because if most of you are right and they are targeting the rural segment, then they've done a horrible job. Failed miserably. But if they're targeting the urban market, SEC B upwards, then it's not that bad, I think.

I agree with Aks in that it's a great initiative for breaking a taboo, a mature society should be able to tackle issues like this head-on.

But I also agree with Ahsan in that it should have been executed better - the condom and safe sex message needs to be more obvious.

Qazu said...

Pakistan is and will be a conservative nation; the majority of the populace is not "Secular" or "Liberal" in the social sense. In America, Pakistani-Americans + Muslim-Americans are struggling to show their children the right path, while in Pakistan, people are asking for Condoms. This will increase pre-martial sex and be detrimental to the social fiber to the nation. If people need this for "family planning" then why don't they go to the doctor and ask for it there? These should not be sold in stores with special restrictions. It pains me to see how Pakistan is being forced into a moral quaigmire by the secularists and elites. Open your eyes!
To Ahsan:
Condoms are allowed in Islam if used for the correct purpose (btwn married couple). You should believe the crap that comes out of Swat these days. Visit:

Fatima said...

You guys were featured on this international womens health coalition blog!

Fatima said...

also according to the latest Pakistan Demographic Health Survey (PDHS 2007) the maternal mortality rate is 276

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