Saturday, May 19, 2012

Not Quite the Real Thing

A few days ago, there was a lavish launch in Karachi for Pakistani Oscar-winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's new documentary project, a series of 6 short documentaries on Pakistanis who are doing interesting and remarkable things in their communities. Those who attended say the first of these documentaries, about a woman who runs a school for gifted children in Lyari, was also screened to much praise but that there was surprisingly no mention of the fact that Ms Obaid-Chinoy's production house, SOCFilms, had received almost $900,000 from the US government to undertake this (and perhaps another) project. (Also curious is the fact that the data for the two grants on the US government's publicly accessible website on government spending has seemingly disappeared though it was seen and tweeted about by many a few months ago.)

In any case, the entity that was more than mentioned and praised for its generosity towards the project was the multinational Coca Cola Company which will be putting the whole project on 16 (!) television channels and advertising it, basically flooding the media as they do with their Coke Studio project. In fact, the entire launch ceremony at a high-end private club was also organized by the corporate, including springing for a well-stocked high tea for the attendees and a give-away high-gloss hardcover coffee table book, and their marketing director apparently spoke at length about his philosophy and hopes about Pakistan.

Now I should point out that I think it's a great thing that a corporate entity is actually putting money into something other than just glitzy fashion shows, expensive ads and 'club nights' for the elite and certainly the much-neglected genre of documentaries is worthy of such support. Not having seen the documentaries themselves, I am not going to talk about them. But I did get my hands on the coffee table book handed out at the launch and this is what I really want to talk about here. Especially because it provides a little window into why those who oppose the corporate/ multinational approach to 'culture' (or what Naomi Klein referred to as the corporatization of culture) have a point.

The book is titled '101 Reasons To Believe In A Better Pakistan' to go with Coke's current 'Ho Yaqeen Tau...' (If You Have Faith) tagline. The idea, apparently, is to re-invigorate dwindling faith in the country among its upper class readers. And this is the cover (the dimensions are a bit off, it's actually a 11"x11" square book, but it was too big to scan in its entirety):

Screw the subconscious, go for the jugular

Yes, apparently, this is a book of belief in, optimism about and hope for Pakistan. But can you really blame the sponsor for, ever so subtly, reminding people who paid for it? In any case, what could possibly encapsulate the idea of belief in Pakistan better than a bottle of sugared and carbonated water?

You open the book. The first page consists of those six youngsters you can see through the cut-out of the bottle on the cover, looking up with hope at... the Coke logo. You turn the page. You confront a "Manifesto!" Let's just say it's not quite the Communist Manifesto, with lines such as "Today I will believe... In bigger, stronger, happier as a we / In sunshine and joyrides, how the best is yet to be." And: "Today I will believe... How the touch of a friend breaks through the dreary." You might be thinking 'sophomoric', but let's not be down on the Revolution.

On the opposite page, the publication information informs us that "The Editor does not share the opinions sustained [sic] in the signed articles; their authors exclusively respond for [sic] them." There is no mention of who the Editor is, perhaps because anonymity allows him / her to have a chance of being hired by anyone to ever edit again. Or perhaps revolutionary propagandists just need to keep a low profile.

The rest of the book consists of full page images of various 'Reasons to Believe in a Better Pakistan' numbered through (what else?) Coke bottle images, interspersed with 11 short profiles (without bylines, so much for the "signed articles") of 'inspiring' people such as a surgeon, a youth activist, two school administrators, a teacher, a driver, a healthcare administrator, a disabilities campaigner, a tailor, an orphanage caretaker and a food kitchen administrator.

The layout of the profiles cannot be termed inspired

The profiles make up 11 of the 101 reasons. Fair enough (though laid out as they are with boring mugshots of these people, and headlines such as "Mohammad Jawaid: Worker at Pleasures Tailors" they don't really draw you in to read them). 'But what are the 90 other reasons?' you may ask. Well, they can broadly be divided into a number of sub-groups.

1. The 'Perfectly Understandable Cliche' Group

This is a surprisingly small bunch and includes a total of 8 reasons, which are: "#14: Pakistan has the world's 7th largest pool of scientists and engineers"; "#22: The largest volunteer ambulance organization in the world belongs to Pakistan - founded by Sattar Edhi"; "#29: Pakistan has the largest Wimax network in the world"; "#34: Pakistan has the world's 2nd largest salt mine in the world - the Khewra mines"; "#47: Gwadar, situated in Pakistan, is the world's largest deep sea port"; "#52: Pakistan has Asia's largest bird sanctuary at Haleji Lake"; "#65: Pakistan has the world's 5th largest coal reserves"; and "#91: Above 70% of the world's football production is carried out in Pakistan."

Unfortunately Coke could not find a single image of the largest volunteer ambulance service in the world, or of Abdus Sattar Edhi

2. The 'Not Sure Why This Should Make Us Believe In A Better Pakistan' Group

This slightly larger group includes reasons such as  "#9: Pakistan is the world's 9th largest English speaking country", "#19: Pakistan's K2 is the 2nd highest mountain peak in the world"; "#42: Asia's highest railway station, Kan Mehtarzai, is located 2,240 meters above sea level near Quetta"; "#57: Thar Desert is one of the largest deserts in the world"; "#70: More than 60 languages are spoken in Pakistan"; "#75: Pakistan's Karakoram Highway is the highest paved road in the world"; "#85: Pakistan's Faisal Mosque is the world's 6th and Asia's largest mosque"; "#95: Pakistan's Nanga Parbat is the 9th highest peak in the world"; and "#98: Pakistan has the world's highest polo ground at Shandur, Pakistan."

Hokay, good times here we come

3. The 'Let's Quote Important People Even Though They May Not Have Actually Said Anything Related to Pakistan' Group

This very small group includes quotable quotes from luminaries such as Che Guevara ("The true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love"), Dr Martin Luther King, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sophocles and Allama Mohammad Iqbal.

Reasons #31, #67 and #49, apparently

Make your own deductions how these quotes can be considered reasons to believe in the future of Pakistan.

4. The 'Take Completely Irrelevant Stuff Off The Net' Group

The biggest group, by far, apparently came about through the mindless extraction of global statistics and factoids from the internet. Some examples:

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Reason #74 to Believe in a Better Pakistan

Imagine, a billion mothers, baking chocolate cakes for Pakistan! Oh wait...

Good thing only Pakistanis have 3 or 4 friends

Small problem: none of these 6000 'laughter clubs' are in Pakistan (but Coke is trying)

5. The 'So Clueless It's Kind of Offensive' Group

This includes some banal generalizations that one can easily poke holes in. Such as...

Tell that to the 40% of the population below the poverty line or to the world's second highest percentage of children out of school


Leaving aside the specific relevance to Pakistan of this global figure, this still leaves only 5.4 billion people without access to drinkable water doesn't it?


Except Ahmadis. Or Christians and Hindus. Or Shias. Or the Baloch

6. The 'WTF Does This Even Mean?' Group

Another major subset of the reasons to believe in a better Pakistan consists of the following classics... which can only be put down to the fact that perhaps Coke still contains the substance it was named after. Consider the following samples:

If that isn't a reason to believe in your country, don't know what is


Just do it! Sorry, wrong brand...


This is Reason #32: Apprarently so self-explanatory that it's not even numbered; Maybe it means that unlike white foreigners, Pakistanis don't throw naked kids up in the air in public? - Win!

And my personal favourite reason for believing in a better Pakistan...

They should have stopped right here, what further proof do you need to believe?

And finally, for those who looked at the cover, the little coke numbering bottles and still didn't get the real reason for believing in Pakistan, there is...

7. The 'In Case You Thought There Weren't Enough References to Coke' Group

Reasons such as:

Reason #5

Reason #101

At a very conservative estimate, this revolutionary manifesto of hope and optimism would have cost Coke about 1.5 million to 2 million rupees to produce if they printed only 1000 copies. Knowing how corporate budgets work, in all likelihood it probably cost far, far more. But the fact that they could have utilized that money better is not even the issue (certainly it is a tiny fraction of the kind of monies spent by Coke on other kinds of advertising). What really is the issue is:

1) How multinationals seem utterly divorced from the real issues (cultural and otherwise) of the countries they operate in;
2) Why 'culture' can only be addressed by corporates as a series of banal cliches or, as in this case, by dishing out senseless tripe, never ever anything remotely controversial or contested as real culture often is; and
3) What makes a corporate entity believe it can unashamedly make itself the focus of the 'cultural expression' it is ostensibly setting out to 'support' and why we have stopped publicly even questioning that.

Surely, if really Ho Yaqeen Tau...


Anonymous said...

good friggin grief. this is atrocious beyond contempt.

Anonymous said...

This is so shockingly bad that I might even do the hitherto unthinkable: start drinking Pepsi. But then, aren't they the ones responsible for those appalling recent ads with cricketers in close- up saying meaningful things?

Anonymous said...

Where is the 'black' Pakola when we need it most?

ercelan said...

atrocious, indeed! since costs are tax deductible this monstrosity is a forced subsidy. but then so are ads.

Raheel Lakhani said...

No mention of the famous Oscar winning documentary which just killed the art of aesthetics and narratives.

Anonymous said...


Ifrah said...

Appalling! Caterpillars turn into GOO!!! Seems like someone's been high on Coke!

Anonymous said...

I thought you are going to make a vary sane suggestion that Sharmeen Chinoy should hand over a part of that 900,000 dollars to the woman who runs a school for gifted children in Lyari. The documentary about that Lyari women must have cost more money than she would ever spend on that school.

Anonymous said...

WTF. Sorry but is that $900,000???? To our oscar winning idol? Are you serious? So why are they being so kanjoos about paying our equally beloved army a few more millions to reopen the NATO supplies?

Khatoon said...

Brilliantly done!
This is the kind of stuff NFP used to do in the 1990s at The News against corporate sponsorship in music. Too bad he sold out.

JP said...

Thanks for the thoughts - shows the incredibly clueless and offensive levels soft drinks will go to commodify culture for profit. They corrupt our health and culture, just the way Monsanto corrupts nature. But then they give us money for Coke Studio so that we become confused about why we must really oppose them..

ramish said...

This article is another sample of let's bash a big brand for creating expensive ads and crap... The author unfortunately takes a very myopic view, just to criticize... I believe suck articles are another reason why the a foreign brand is made to come up with reasons for us to believe in our country... I agree that almost all csr initiatives come with the implied understanding that we help your community, so you buy our products... I don't see authors like these criticising cricket or other such apparently useless sports.. as the exorbitant money paid to sportsman can be used to help large communities of poor people. (Authors logic)... And yeah coke is paying one rupees to the care foundation for every bottle sold... So I guess daily consumption of coke does matter after all...

Ahsan said...

Seems like the work of a bored individual who has already given up hope of a better Pakistan.

There is no "truly selfless" act in the world, just a collection of actions in which both parties benefit. If words like "hope, happiness, better Pakistan" are being said, to invigorate a different spirit in the youth what is wrong with that?

The authors logic that money can be better spent while true is flawed at its base. For Coke the money could perhaps be better spent at furthering its own agenda, for Pakistan the money could be better spent if Coke shuts down its operations and puts all its investment into Pakistan.. Oops I forgot it is a company, not the IMF.

Live and let live, and if you feel they could have done a better job, start a NGO and plug in the holes that they missed..Make an effort! Be a part of the solution, not the problem.

Sharaabi Shezani Pakistani said...

@ Khatoon...very very well said,lady!
@ the people hating the authors views...go and enjoy lavish parties to bring a change in Pakistan or maybe they work in SOC's company thats why they are so bitter....sach karwa hota

Anonymous said...

Wow! So even Coke has its own trolls (ref Ramish, Ahsan) who will stoop to defend the most inane initiatives of the company? And I thought trolls were the exclusive copyright of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf!

Anonymous said...

at the end of the doc it says that it was sponsored by the UN. is this not true or will you guys be posting a retraction?

Anonymous said...

There's lots more to it. They took out a bunch of bloggers as part of a "Blogger outreach program" on a cruise trip from Karachi, gave them amazing food and iPod Nano's to "covertly" promote the Ho Yaqeen campaign. Good thing was, some of the bloggers actually spoke up and said, what are we, more than marketing tools to your company? To which they said, bring on the COKE!

From a marketing perspective, yes CSR is going to be the emerging trend and it makes sense. However, it will work when it actually creates some real value and not just FLUFF!

Mouse Police

Anonymous said...

The reason you people are so clueless about the real problems of Pakistan is simply because you are not representative of the majority of this country.

What else do you expect when you are hiring people with marketing degrees from IBA ? Just do a poll and ask the readers how many of them have actually been to one of the troubled areas of Karachi ? Heck ! Has the writer of this article ever been to Lyari or Purana Golimar or Pak Colony ? Or when was the last time any of you travelled on the roof of a bus because you couldnt find place to stand in it ?

Geo par mulk kay maslay dekhnay say agar sachay Pakistani bann gayay hum toh hamara Allah he hafiz hai ! And atleast coke did 'something'.. or should it have been better off giving the money to Shahid Afridi ?!

Anonymous said...

ok all of you can go eat maggots and i hope all of you get caught up in gay love triangles. thank you for writing this shit and peeing all over the faith we had in the youth today with make belief crap. i hope you all grow pubic hair all over your body and have white blood corpuscles coming out of your anus. coca cola kay bachay aye baray marketing karnay walay.... kaash tum sab ko koi cheel utha kay le jaye... AND WHY THE FUCK WOULD BLOGGER THINK IM A ROBOT WHEN IM CLEARLY NOT?!>!>!

Tum sab ka honay wala shohar

WhiteWidow said...

Would the same author not flame the asses of corporates for not doing ANY csr or raising-the-image-of-the-country-they-work-in kinda thing?

True, the 'reasons' are hilarious! Lol, heck they truly are, is this what corporate think-tanks do!? Pathetic execution. But appreciate a multinational for looking where hardly anyone ever has! Would you rather appreciate Walls with 'Love me baby love me' or Ufone with that mind-numbing crap?

And yes, every bottle you buy for Coke, they give money to care foundation (says on their packing, read it?). Makes a difference.

Aditya said...

i guess the 5.4 billion without access to drinking water can simply drink Coke!

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