Wednesday, July 07, 2010

A Girl Story's "Pay-Per-View" Donations

© 2010 Mahindra Foundation

Via Kidscreen, news today about a fundraising initiative that uses the serial or "pay-per-chapter" model to raise money for girls' education in India. The campaign, called A Girl Story, ties access to a new web-based film series, presented in segments, with user donations. The idea is the result of a collaboration between Nanhi Kali ("For the Girl Child," part of Mahindra Foundation, a global NGO based out of Mumbai) and StrawberryFrog (a self-described "cultural movement agency," but really just a marketing/ad company), who are hoping that viewers will become sufficiently invested in the series that they will continue to donate the money required to keep the series alive. The first installment is free (naturally) and was launched about 3 weeks ago. After that, however, each new chapter or segment will only be added once (and if) viewers have pooled together $1000. A total of eleven segments are currently either in development or ready for broadcast, and viewers are reportedly already close to reaching the first $1K target needed to open the next paid-for segment. I was a bit confused about whether or not this is will be the first paid-for segment opened (and first $1K raised), as there are currently 4 segments available on the website, at the end of which a message appears stating (in the main character Tali's "voice") "I can only get so far if you don't give. Please donate", along with a bar graph indicating that the total raised is at $891/$1000.

Seems promising as a fundraising initiative, particularly since it already claims to be on target despite the fact that it hasn't received much press coverage until this week. The series (and website) itself is very stylish - animated in a sort of DIY aesthetic with basic sitar music (no talking so far). It features a simple but devastating story of Tali, who has to stay home and do housework while her brother gets to go to school and read (as depicted in the screenshot above). It also features some very clever use of Youtube technology, which lines up perfectly with the animated content.

However, to call this project the first donation-based "film series" is pretty far fetched. The segments are very short - the Intro (which could also function as a stand alone ad for the website) is about 30 seconds, while the first 4 "segments" are 14-20 seconds each. As a whole, it felt a lot more like watching a very pretty advertisement than anything like a film, and I'm skeptical that the segments will really be able to "hook" viewers to the point of paying the see the next one. That said, the creativity of the ad, along with the worthiness of the cause, will likely inspire some (perhaps many) to make a donation. Which, at the end of the day, is the point, so kudos should definitely go to A Girl Story as an innovative ad strategy. I just wish the PR around this campaign was more honest about its contents. I cringe at the thought of advertisements becoming pay-per-view matter how pretty or prosocial they might be.

You can read more about it on this post by Brenna Ehrlich over at Mashable, which includes some statements made by StrawberryFrog representatives that give a better sense of their strategy here, such as:
“As far as we know, this is the first donation-based film series,” says Britta Shell, account manager at StrawberryFrog. “It brings users into the donation process.” Basically, if people stop donating, the story stops as well, paralleling what happens to real-life girls when they’re not given enough money to gain an education. “You can really make a emotional connection to the donation,” adds Kris Seto, interactive producer at StrawberryFrog.
I hope that these links are made more explicit as the campaign unfolds - as it stands there seems to be a bit too much emphasis on the "media product" as value added feature, and too little on the ultimate goal of the series to "help real girls" become educated through crowd-sourced micro-donations. This emphasis is, as I mention above, paralleled in the press releases and coverage around the campaign, which similarly highlight the "film series". I should note here that the campaign has also been shortlisted in Cannes Lions, which may explain some of what's happening here.

Anyway, you can check out the site for yourself here. But be sure to also visit the Nanhi Kali website, which includes some very important and depressing information about the status and state of girlhood in India, as well as UNGEI - the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative - which operates in India and many other countries where girls are denied basic rights.

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