May 1, 2009

The unmet challenge

The family planning marketing techniques need a revamp

By Naila Inayat
Turn on the radio in the morning; the first thing that brushes your ears is this annoyingly melodious track Suno Zara Khushi Ki Aahat / Chu Lo Zara Man Ki Chahat. If by any chance you are planning to switch on the TV for morning news, then better not touch the remote -- the same song, brought to you by Touch Condoms, a product of Greenstar, is being played there as well!
This bold campaign is being noticed across the cities because of the huge billboards, as well as advertisements in the print and electronic media. If the target audience is the urban locale, then what about the rural areas where the majority of Pakistanis still live? Even if it is urban-area specific, what about the downtrodden majority that lives in slums and other underdeveloped areas of the big cities? Do they get the message in black and white? However, it is not only this particular campaign that one should question; the entire family planning marketing techniques should be in focus.
According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2006-7 (PDHS), the unmet need for family planning is defined as the percentage of married women who want to space their next birth or stop child bearing entirely but are not using contraception. The survey reveals that 25 percent of married women have an unmet need for family planning -- 11 percent for spacing and 14 percent for limiting. Moreover, the unmet need ranges from 23 percent in Punjab to 31 percent in Balochistan.
"I do not understand these advertisements much. All I know is that I have problems convincing my husband about planning our family. I do not get any help from the radio or TV for this purpose, while I cannot read newspapers," says Haleema, a 27-year-old mother of one and a resident of a slum near Liaqatabad.
Javed, a carpenter living in the same slum, tells The News on Sunday: "When I was growing up, I watched the comedy programme Janjalpura on PTV. That was an effective way of convincing people with a pinch of salt. However, the government does not seem to be focussing on the issue of population control these days."
"If you ask what awareness has been created through advertisements, my answer would be bachay do hi achay (two kids are the best). I have not come across anything as simple as this. It was through this tagline that health workers convinced us to practice contraception. This is the only reason I have only two children," Shafiq, another resident of the area, says.
"I find the family planning advertisements really amusing. In fact, at first I thought the Touch Condoms advertisement was publicity of some mobile phone," says Hina Tariq, creative manager at an advertising agency. It is a fact that advertising of contraceptives is still very much a taboo in Pakistan. Therefore, such awareness campaigns should be encouraged in societies like ours where there is a lack of knowledge about reproductive health, especially in the underdeveloped areas.
During discussion on the key findings of the PDHS at a recent workshop, it was claimed that 45 percent of the country's women have been exposed to a family planning message through the radio (11 percent) or TV (41 percent) in the month prior to the survey. Urban, educated and wealthy women are more likely to have heard a family planning message than those living in rural areas, those with less education and those who are poor. The most common types of messages heard related to limiting family size, spacing children and using contraception.
However, Hina says: "Medium is the message. If you are following that rule in advertising, then it is imperative for you to know who is decoding your message; in other words, who is your target audience." If you are trying to convince slum dwellers to adopt contraception through advertising and you are coming up with a generalised idea -- glamorous models, beautiful props and a vague message -- they would be further alienated. Therefore, there is a need to evolve simple and dynamic ways of advertising. Street theatre could be one such method whereby the population control authorities work with NGOs to create awareness among the masses.
Federal Minister for Population Welfare Dr Fardous Ashiq Awan agrees with the idea. "Social marketing is important to counter this unmet need for family planning. The family planning advertising campaign should be in the reach of those couples who are 'convinced' of the use of contraception. In Pakistan, the practice is otherwise -- you are trying to convince the 'unconvinced' lot, while you are not giving proper information to the convinced lot," she says. Awan believes that in order to spread the message, the Ministry of Information can work in tandem with the Ministry of Population Welfare, especially now when the electronic media has become so vibrant.

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