Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

When branding power meets mobile

Published in Nov-Dec 2016
It is high time for brands to embrace the mobile web.

A few weeks ago, I was standing inside what was known in London for many years a white elephant: The Millennium Dome. Situated at the Greenwich Peninsula, it was meant to celebrate ‘a new Britain’ at the turn of the century. It failed to do so spectacularly. After devouring over £530 million worth of national funds, the Dome was labelled a ‘complete waste of time and money’.

That is, until the telecom operator O2 decided to use it for a rebranding exercise. Renamed The O2 in May 2005, the operator successfully turned this white elephant into an indoor arena, music club, cinema, exhibition space and an international tennis venue. The huge white marquee held up by twelve, 100-metre-high yellow support towers (one for each hour of the clock or month of the year) is now one of the most famous and instantly recognisable venues in London. The O2 also cleverly incorporates promotions and incentives for the world’s best location-based mobile marketing programme, namely O2’s ‘Priority Moments.’

The lesson is that the branding power of a telecom operator can effectively drive the power of mobile itself.

The potential for location-based mobile marketing is tremendous in Pakistan as well. Sadly, mobile network operators (MNOs) in Pakistan have not been able to deliver with much success (although Mobilink,Telenor and Ufone have in the past, but with mixed results).

In recent years, Pakistan’s telecom market has been the victim of high taxation, uncertainty caused by a merger and reduced capital investment. It has also remained mired in a decade-long price war. All of this has meant that little effort has been made to enhance their capability to offer mobile channels as a robust marketing platform. This does not mean, however, that mobile marketing is not being realised in Pakistan; it is, on the contrary.


In recent years, Pakistan’s telecom market has been the victim of high taxation, uncertainty caused by a merger and reduced capital investment. It has also remained mired in a decade-long price war.


In the last five years, many brands have successfully used SMS and short codes in collaboration with MNOs and digital agencies. It is wonderful to see that brands have now become more responsible in using SMS targeting and opt-in. As a result, customers have become more willing participants, engaging deftly with brands, ranging from early adopters of short codes such as Dalda to more recent entrants like Tarzz.

Encouragingly, missed call mobile marketing campaigns have also taken off. Lifebuoy used a combination of SMS, social media and missed calls to a short code (4474) for their Mother’s Day campaign in 2014 and 2015. Generating over one million missed calls, the campaign resulted in a market share increase of 17.6%, reversing sale declines recorded in 2014. The campaign deservedly won an award at the 2015 MMA (Mobile Marketing Association) SMARTIES – incidentally the first Pakistan-based brand, along with its agency Mindshare, to do so since the inception of the SMARTIES a few years ago.

This year, Tang also ran a cross-platform marketing campaign incorporating missed calls for Mother’s Day and used mobile web banners to create awareness about it.

Jawwad Jafri, CEO, Flashcall, elaborates, “We worked with mobile web publishers, such as Hamariweb, KFoods, ARY, Aaj TV and YouTube, to display mobile ad units for the campaign and used our in-house measurement tools to keep track of the engagement level achieved.”

Nevertheless, the use of mobile web and related mobile advertising, such as rich banners and mobile rich media is still rather tentative and certainly not at the level it should be. Jafri, who officially represents the mobile ad network InMobi in Pakistan, believes that the potential for mobile web advertising is enormous and that brands really should start experimenting with mobile ad placements in order to target a growing mobile internet audience. According to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s 2016 3Q figures, 3G users in Pakistan are close to 30 million and 4G users have crossed the one million mark.

Understanding the potential of smartphone-based mobile advertising, some brands, like Trident, are already on-board with Inmobi and used targeted mobile ad units for the launch of one of their new products in October 2016. Other mobile ad networks, such as Airpush have also attracted Pakistan based clients (including Pizza Hut and QMobile) for targeted mobile web and in-app based ads since last year. This is encouraging news, as InMobi had been trying to enter our market since 2012 with digital agency partner Symmetry but market response was lacking.

In my view, the tide for mobile turned two years ago at the end of 2014. A series of what I call ‘mobile markers’ had a transformational effect on the mobile segment in Pakistan. The advent of 3G was certainly one of them. Mobilink, for example, reported that six million customers were accessing Facebook via their mobile phone after the launch of 3G. Google access via mobile phones which stood at 25% in 2012 crossed the 40% mark by end of 2014. Some, although by far not all, brands became serious about making their websites ‘mobile friendly’ or ‘responsive.’

The third quarter of 2014 also saw an unprecedented doubling of smartphone penetration in Pakistan, going from nine percent in 2013 to over 17% a year later. Smartphones sales, which had already benefitted from a boost when QMobile undercut the market with respect to price, were averaging an impressive sale of 375,000 units per month, of which 250,000 were sold by QMobile alone. Many other low-cost mobile phone brands started to enter the market which is known regionally as an ‘80% under $80 market’.

By this count, brands in Pakistan should have embraced advertising on the mobile web by early 2015, yet at the tail end of 2016, many of them still have not, whereas internationally, the static mobile banner ad, which has been 20 years in the making, has been sidelined in favour of the standard 300x50 or 320x50 smartphone banner. This is in addition to the adoption of slider, pull and full page. Other IAB Rising Star mobile ad unit formats are also increasing as these formats are proving to be the most effective. On a global level, ad spend on mobile has been exponential, with regional hubs like India spending over $50 million on mobile advertising alone in 2015.

Furthermore, in-app mobile advertising has become a game changer in many markets, and I strongly believe it can easily be so in Pakistan. Many brands, including PakWheels.com, Slide and Zameen.com are a testament to the fact that quality apps can be ‘made in Pakistan’.

The SlideApp, which was founded by the self-confessed ‘Start-up Jinn’ Junaid Malik, lets you select news content of your interest and incorporates a reward system based on content consumption. Slide has gained more than three million users since its launch a year ago and its targeted in-app advertising has managed an impressive click-through rate of 12% (Source: Techjuice.pk) – well above the global industry average standard of two to eight percent. Monetisation is also of significance to OLX, and Zeeshan Anwar Khan, the company’s Country Manager, believes that we are “in the phase of planning a category specific monetisation.”

For local brands, the time to embrace the mobile web is now. No more white elephants please.

Yasmin Malik is associated with the UK’s Informa Telecoms & Media. yasminmalik1@yahoo.com