|Illustration by Creative Unit.|
Much like foodies eager to sink their teeth into the next generation burger, advertising professionals are always on the lookout for the next big thing, which is the reason why they are so well versed in the art of adaptability. An emerging and fast expanding retail, fabric and fashion industry have proven that as an industry we can adapt our thinking swiftly from FMCG to fashion, banking to telecommunications, insurance to ecommerce. We are also nothing if not flexible when it comes to media, taking on digital with as much enthusiasm as the preceding generations for the switch from film to video and from cutting rooms to state-of-the-art editing suites. So what happens when the next big thing on the cultural landscape collides with (what is so far) this century’s most significant media change? What happens when food meets new media?
Catering companies and cupcakeries, fine dining establishments and gastro-pub cafés, food shows and festivals (and new restaurants and cafés opening somewhere every other week), clearly indicate Pakistan’s food industry has undergone a massive metamorphosis over the last half decade. What is more, as a nation we are now no longer content to sit back and talk about food as a cultural facet of our nationhood and hospitality, instead we are actively participating in this metamorphosis; exploring, experimenting, experiencing and commenting.
Today’s restaurant owners are pushing boundaries to create modern interpretations of local cuisine and explore global menus to inspire a changing local palette, and as a result of this dynamic food environment, a richly competitive landscape has emerged with restaurateurs looking to carve out a niche that ensures their uniqueness is firmly positioned in the customer’s mind.
It is this desire to be unique that has created the need for astute marketing strategies. How do I set my burger apart from the one on the menu two cafés down? What will make my chocolate cupcake be seen as the ultimate in decadence? When you live in a world of subjectivity, ruled by what tantalises a customer’s taste buds – and the resultant conversations that play out, particularly within the digital realm – you need to be heard; you need people to love you, your food and what you stand for. This can only be achieved by the kind of message you put out there – a challenge any forward-thinking ad agency should be salivating over.
Although the opportunity may not result in a 60-second film or even a massive outdoor or print campaign, it is nevertheless an exciting prospect for the new media platforms – be they digital, on-ground or PR driven. They all have one very powerful trait in common: they are interactive.
When you live in a world of subjectivity, ruled by what tantalises a customer’s taste buds – and the resultant conversations that play out, particularly within the digital realm – you need to be heard; you need people to love you, your food and what you stand for.
These new media formats give customers the power to experience a newly evolving food world and a platform for comment and discussion. However, beware. Facebook, Twitter or Instagram can help build a brand, but they can help break one as well. I may use a medium to create a clutter-breaking and creative campaign for my new restaurant or food business and someone else may use the same one to bring down another establishment with a harsh review. I may post mouth-watering images of food of my favourite café on Instagram, someone else may use it to capture a less positive perspective.
Whether it is a restaurant’s own page or a general foodie page, like for example Karachi Food Diary, these platforms have become influential voices in making or breaking reputations. This trend will not go away and nor should it if a competitive, yet healthy, foodie social media atmosphere is to be maintained. However, what is needed is a solid social media strategy that acts as a powerful tool to help share what your food worldview is and establish your base among your target customers.
Social media may be the most obvious platform where both restaurateur and customer can interact, but it is not the only one. Other emerging platforms are food festivals and fairs. A twist on traditional on-ground activations, they are more of an interactive meeting between customers and the food-grounds they tread. The Karachi Eat Festival is a recent example of a platform where foodies and food-creators come together to share a common experience – the love of food, be it eating it or cooking it.
From a marketer’s perspective, such platforms are an opportunity to showcase a food brand’s uniqueness. As the trend towards food festivals spreads (as it will), food business owners need to be innovative in the way they seek to attract customers to their pop-up venues – why should I choose one cupcakery over another? Does the fact that you let me personalise my frosting add to the experience? Or does the fact that I had to wait too long for supplies to be refreshed take away from it? Although PR is still a nascent discipline in Pakistan, what restaurants have been good at doing, are small-scale, tactical activities that generate positive WOM and share-ability – for example Xander’s Barista Art and the #coffecupromance campaign or when restaurants, such as The Pantry and Lal’s lend their support to The Citizen’s Archive of Pakistan Children’s Carnival. For marketing agencies this is probably the most exciting aspect to be involved in. How are you keeping your brand in customers’ minds in a way that is so seamless they hardly know it? Don’t forget audiences today are highly message savvy and quick to smell a rat! However, as the food business market further grows, food business owners are going to need someone to manage their marketing within this competitive, consumer-centric, opinionated, #hashtag, check-in obsessed landscape. And if you are an industry professional how can you not take up the challenge?
Amber Rauf is a strategist and corporate communications specialist by day, and an avid foodie and aspiring stylist by night.