Reduced attention spans, lengthy ad breaks during primetime and intrusive pop-ups have all led consumers to either disregard or avoid advertising altogether by switching channels or installing ad blocking software. No wonder then, marketers globally, and in Pakistan to an extent, are increasingly using content marketing to reach their ever elusive audiences.
In essence, content marketing is a subliminal way of creating higher brand recall and loyalty and encompasses a variety of initiatives, which include – but are not limited to – branded content on TV, programme integrations, native advertising, articles, blogs, white papers, e-newsletters, events and magazines (print and digital). This, however, is not to say that content marketing can, at any stage, replace traditional advertising – both work in tandem with each other.
A more formal definition of content marketing provided by The Content Marketing Institute (CMI), an industry-leading resource, is: “a technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
A survey conducted by the Chief Marketing Officer Council reveals that senior marketers worldwide are of the opinion that “the leading benefits of using enriched/ personalised content and digital interactions” include higher response and engagement rates, more timely and relevant interactions, greater consumer affinity, conversion of more customers, brand differentiation, higher loyalty and retention, and better brand recall and recognition.
Consequently, spend on content marketing globally is now $145 billion, up by 13% from last year (Source: PQ Media) and is estimated to hit $313 billion by 2020; in the US, spend on content marketing was over $67 billion in 2014 – for context, spend on television amounted to approximately $70 billion.
Over the years, content marketing channels have evolved; while the 1900s witnessed a focus on TV, radio, print and OOH, as the noughties began, the internet, and with it social media, gained traction. Therefore, it is no surprise that an ever increasing number of brands are using the digital ecosystem for their content marketing initiatives. This is substantiated by a 2014 survey of 191 marketing and ad agency executives conducted by Advertising Age, which concluded that “the top seven channels used for distributing content are all owned or earned: a company’s own website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, e-newsletters, LinkedIn and video.”
Needless to say, content marketing is here to stay.
In Pakistan, the practice of brands using content marketing, especially on TV, is not new. Earliest examples include Lux Style ki Dunya (a magazine-format show on fashion and beauty trends aired in 1994), Gulls & Guys (a travelogue conceptualised by John Player Gold Leaf, and aired on PTV in 1999), Pepsi Battle of the Bands (a music show aired in 2002) and Ariel Maa (a talk show celebrating mothers, aired in 2012). All these shows provided entertainment value, with each programme’s concept built on the brand’s core values.
Aurora spoke to several brands, agencies and companies, and four recent examples of content marketing emerged among the most effective.
P&G’s Commander Safeguard is an animated TV show for children featuring Commander Safeguard, a superhero who fights germs in the form of his adversaries Dirtoo and Kachra Rani, and communicates safe hygiene practices.
Imtisal Abbasi, COO, IAL Saatchi & Saatchi, and the project lead on Commander Safeguard says the idea began as a BTL activity in 1996; teams of doctors would travel to schools across Pakistan to tell stories about Commander Safeguard’s heroics to schoolchildren; about how he fights germs and unhygienic practices. After the tremendous response this activity elicited from children, Commander Safeguard’s story was animated and the first TV show was aired in 2003 – and continues until this day.
“The core objective of Commander Safeguard was never to generate sales; it was to contribute in reducing the number of diarrhoea incidents by creating awareness – as well as develop the antibacterial soap category,” Abbasi adds, although it is safe to say that P&G was also counting on ‘pester power’ to increase sales.
Such was the success of the show that Safeguard’s competitors also introduced animated characters, Lifebuoy Germ Busters and Dettol Warriors. Commander Safeguard has also been introduced in other developing countries, including Kenya and Mexico.
Coca-Cola’s Coke Studio, a music show featuring studio-recorded performances (aired on TV) by Pakistani musicians and singers was initiated in 2008, at a time when Pepsi dominated the carbonated beverages market and Coca-Cola was looking for ways to make a comeback. Earlier this year, Starcom Pakistan won an Asia Pacific Excellence Award in the content marketing category for Coke Studio.
According to Ali Akbar, Regional Marketing Director, Pakistan and Afghanistan, The Coca-Cola Corporation, “Pakistan’s young are passionate about music and cricket. The competition was already strong on cricket, so we opted for music and the idea of reviving the music culture of Pakistan.”
Coke Studio’s audience is mostly both young and urban and with increased adoption of the digital medium by this target audience, a move to the digital sphere occurred with the launch of their website in 2014. According to Akbar, the songs are now released on digital platforms before they go on air, which helps Coke interact with their audience and determine their preferences for forthcoming seasons.
Like Abbasi, Akbar says that Coke Studio’s core purpose goes beyond sales generation; it was “to introduce Pakistan’s young to our heritage and expose them to world class music in a way that would appeal to them and create top-of-mind recall.”
An initiative by Unilever (executed by The Brand Crew), this website is considered by many agencies and brands to be the only content marketing initiative in Pakistan that is entirely web-based. Its Facebook page (which currently has more than 370,000 likes) describes it as: “the largest beauty, hair and wellbeing portal for the women of Pakistan.”
The portal serves as a beauty and lifestyle hub and consists of articles that centre on fashion, hair, makeup and skincare tips, often from Pakistani celebrities from the entertainment and fashion industries. While the content on the website does not advocate the use of specific brands, the ads displayed promote Unilever products.
The website also features TVCs and videos that form part of Unilever’s ‘Joy of Ramazan’ campaign, featuring Pakistani actor Sarwat Gillani and her husband (actor and surgeon) Fahad Mirza. The videos seem to serve two purposes. Firstly, to promote the use of Unilever products, including Vaseline, Pond’s and Fair & Handsome, and secondly, to generate awareness about the website itself. (Aurora contacted Unilever multiple times for comments on the portal; however, the team was unwilling to share details at this point.)
Lifebuoy 28 Days
Launched last year, this content marketing initiative is built on the premise that the first 28 days of a child’s life are extremely important and hygiene plays a crucial role.
The initiative pivots across two demographics. To reach the lower SECs, Lifebuoy collaborated with 31 neonatal clinics across Pakistan, co-opting women health workers with the task of educating mothers about the importance of washing their hands to ensure their child’s health. To target the upper SECs, photographs of parents from all walks of life with their newborn children were taken by Arif Mahmood, Tapu Javeri and Malika Abbas. The photographs were then used across three different platforms; they were posted on Dawn.com as part of visually-rich immersive photo essays narrating the experiences of new parents; published in expensive coffee-table book format; and displayed at an exhibition at the Canvas Gallery, Karachi.
“Lifebuoy is no longer a carbolic soap, and the formulation is as good as Lux. Through the exhibition and book launch, we wanted to increase the brand visibility of Lifebuoy among the higher SECs,” explains Ammar Mohsin, former Brand Manager, Lifebuoy.
Perhaps as importantly, ‘28 Days’ highlights how online publishers (in this case, Dawn.com) can help build a brand narrative. “There are huge opportunities for brand and editorial partnerships. They [editors and writers] know what story angle to take and how to present it,” Mohsin adds.
The HR challenge
This brings forward another question: what are the skills required to conceptualise and execute successful content marketing campaigns?
According to Salma Jafri, Content Marketing Strategist and Founder, Salma Jafri Media, “for online campaigns, it is crucial to hire people who have the technical expertise to use content curation, creation and measurement tools.” On the creative side, knowing the art of storytelling is mandatory for content marketers – whether online or on traditional media.
For this reason, many international content marketers, including Joe Pulizzi, founder of CMI, believe that journalists are ideal content marketers because they know how to tell engaging stories based on research, have industry contacts, and are aware of ethics and legalities associated with procuring and publishing content. However, in Pakistan, content marketing is still not considered a worthy sub-discipline of marketing, which is the reason why there are no dedicated content marketing agencies, let alone content marketers. Nevertheless, like in the case of digital agencies which have cropped up in the last decade following the social media wave, this is likely to change.
A question of changing mindsets
Before one can think of finding ways of overcoming the HR challenge, there is an even more important factor to keep in mind if content marketing is to be seen as an initiative worth investing in, and that is changing mindsets within the industry.
Amir Haleem Syed, CEO, KueBall Digital, points out that “it is the agency’s job to push their clients to embrace content marketing, and reap the rewards it can offer their brands.”
Syed also emphasises the challenges involved in doing so. “We have to educate our clients, because they are averse to the subliminal branding that defines content marketing. We have to persuade them that putting the brand in the background is the way to go.”
Clearly, if brands in Pakistan want to take advantage of content marketing, they will have to change their mindsets and remember that effective content marketing initiatives require them to be more subtle in terms of branding and shift the product to the backseat, letting content drive the communication. This will, in the long run, create lasting brand recall among consumers and lead to increased brand equity – and, of course, sales.
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