Published in Nov-Dec 2016
Earlier this year, Simon Crerar, Editor, BuzzFeed Australia, told Aurora in an exclusive interview earlier that BuzzFeed caters primarily to Millennials; one of the reasons why it is perceived to be a “cat-video” company, is because its content, by and large, is perceived as ‘fluffy’ and caters to an audience base that doesn’t necessarily like to read.
Perhaps keeping this in mind, several websites in Pakistan have been launched in the last two to three years to cater primarily to Millennials. These include Mangobaaz, Parhlo, Shughal and WebChutney among others. They follow a content model similar to BuzzFeed, in that it is heavy on humour, visuals, lists and quizzes, all with the hopeful intent of making it ‘viral’.
The popularity of these sites can be gauged by the fact that Parhlo ranks at 242 in Pakistan on Alexa.com and has 350,519 followers on Facebook. Mangobaaz ranks 246 and has 366,000 Facebook followers. Alexa rankings for Shughal and WebChutney are not available although they have Facebook followers amounting to 674,471 and 3,500 respectively.
These websites mostly curate infotainment-based content with a focus on humour, entertainment, lifestyle and travel. They have presence on Facebook and Twitter; Parhlo also has an Instagram account; Mangobaaz, with YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest accounts, is the most active on all social networks.
Parhlo.com, was possibly the first of its kind, when it launched in 2014. Faiza Zafar, Editor-in-Chief, Parhlo (she is currently pursuing a PhD in Management Sciences at SZABIST) recalls that Parhlo was initiated when one of its co-founders tried to have an article published on a “socially sensitive topic” in a newspaper, but was unable to do so due to the fact that it was controversial. This is when Zafar realised the need for a website like Parhlo.
For Zafar, Parhlo serves as a platform for young people to “voice their opinions and read about each other’s opinions and experiences; hence ‘Parhlo’ which means ‘read’ in Urdu.” Incidentally, Parhlo is the only website among the ones under review that has an Urdu mirror-website running in conjunction with its English-language one. Parhlo is also the only website that has its own app and says it caters to readers in Pakistan as well as those in the Middle East.
A small team of content writers and developers form the Parhlo team, although the company also relies on “an army of freelancers” to produce content.
In terms of business model, although Parhlo declined to share details, Zafar says that “a five-year plan is in place” which involves using technology to reach both “online and offline audiences.” Parhlo has, so far, featured native content by various brands including Foodpanda, Nestlé and Telenor and also generates revenue via traditional web advertising.
Mangobaaz was started in 2014 by two young entrepreneurs who were then based in San Francisco – Ali Ahsan and Ali Gul. According to Ahsan the idea came up during a conversation about how online media in Pakistan lacked a platform that catered specifically to Millennials.
Ahsan and Gul (now Lahore based) run a team of nine people who create and curate content. Although an infotainment website, Ahsan says Mangobaaz also features serious content that may sometimes be considered controversial. These include “social issues”, such as how women are “slut shamed” or child prostitution.
“Our content is juicy and enjoyable, just like a mango. The baaz implies being pushy and continuing to question. You know how people say, ‘Yeh baaz naheen atay’; that’s the Millennials of Pakistan.”
According to Ahsan, Mangobaaz was initially funded by its founders, but now that the website has started working with myriad brands, they are now generating substantial revenue. Ahsan adds that the primary revenue earner for Mangobaaz is native advertising in the form of stories and videos for brands such as Actifiber, Fabingo, Lays, Rafhan, Sprite, Telenor Talkshawk and Uber.
WebChutney which also started in 2014, is part of the Express Media Group. Bilal Lakhani, the mastermind behind WebChutney and the publisher of The Express Tribune, says that the website was created to cater to audiences who are not interested in hard news and spend a considerable amount of time on social media and rely on it to get their information.
According to Lakhani, WebChutney, which has a dedicated team to create and curate content, began as a three-month experiment. “We wanted to see how well ‘BuzzFeed’ type content could do as a standalone website – and what kind of readership we could attract.” Clearly, the response was promising, since it has managed to stay active since its inception.
With an in-house team that creates content along with a team of freelancers, WebChutney is funded by the Express Media Group. In terms of the revenue model, it is likely that the site relies on the Group to attract and advertise, which is primarily found in the form of web banners.
Shughal was launched in February 2015; the team was unable to comment despite several attempts by Aurora. However, according to their website, Shughal “creates and publishes positive, inspiring social content for the Middle East [and Pakistan]... and is committed to sharing positive, inspiring stories to our readers.” The website positions itself as a content provider which provides brands the space to natively advertise.”
Shughal has worked with PakWheels, Radiant Lamps and Jovago, and like most of its competitors, native advertising is the main source of revenue for this website, in various forms including lists, articles and quizzes.
While it is evident that these websites are, for the most part, gaining popularity among audiences, perhaps what is needed the most – and this is part of the evolution of any new category – is differentiation. This is because the content on these website, is strikingly similar in terms of its treatment and ‘voice’, and reminiscent of the lists and quizzes on BuzzFeed. However, unlike BuzzFeed, which has several writers and bloggers who are well known celebrities, these website have a long way to go if they want to achieve this. Yet, given that most of these websites are relatively new, there is a chance that they can achieve differentiation, as well as recognition for their writers and editors, and in the process, carve out an identity that is distinctively their own.
Hafsah Sarfraz is PR Executive, M&C Saatchi World Services.