Okay, so if you are like me you have probably been joking with your friends for some time now about how we should all start learning Chinese because there is a 'Cheeni invasion' happening in Pakistan. Everywhere you turn, whether it’s a mall, a park, or your neighbourhood general store, you will be likely to spot someone from China. In fact, on a flight back from Bangkok to Karachi in December, I noticed that more than half the passengers were Chinese – not Thai, but Chinese.
So yes, CPEC is happening and you would have to be living under a rock not to know it. But then Shan Masala goes and makes this TVC about a Chinese woman making biryani for her Lahori neighbours. Now first of all you know that when big brands start cashing in on a trend, it has to be serious. But this becomes a bit more interesting because they are talking about a foreigner making Pakistani food in the foodie capital of Lahore. Woah, hang on, this just went off the charts. Granted, Lahoris don’t know anything about making a good briyani (sorry Lahori friends) but still! A risky move from Shan but one that I suspect will pay off.
Here’s the ad for those who haven’t seen it yet:
I have watched the ad a few times and I have to say, I like it. The loneliness of living far away from friends and family, the confusion of trying to fit into a new and alien culture and the difficulties of adjusting to a new way of life, all ring true, and shape the experiences of many expats. Also, this isn’t the first time Shan has tackled this concept of food bringing people together when away from home – remember that ad with the two brothers? We loved it because it was a reminder of how we feel when we are living in a foreign culture and here Shan is tackling the same issue from a different perspective. So for that I give full marks to Ogilvy & Mather, the ad agency behind the TVC.
What I don’t love so much are the unnecessary clichés – the street cricket in the background, the covering of the head and the underlying notion that Pakistani women are so shallow that they would only welcome someone who cooks well.
I also like the attention to detail. For example, the Chinese woman is wearing a seat belt while sitting in the back seat of the car. This is classic, because we know that most Pakistanis wouldn’t wear a seat belt even while sitting up front (let alone in the back), so a good contrast there. Then there’s the fact that she’s looking up recipes on her phone. Of course everyone does that now but the obsession with phones and technology is a very Chinese/South East Asian trait and it has been seamlessly woven into the commercial. The confusion on the Chinese woman’s face when she knocks on her neighbours’ door is also brilliant – a really good piece of acting there.
What I don’t love so much are the unnecessary clichés – the street cricket in the background, the covering of the head and the underlying notion that Pakistani women are so shallow that they would only welcome someone who cooks well. I also have some issues with the over-the-top behaviour of the Pakistani women – yes, we are very hospitable and quite effusive on occasion but these paroxysms of delight go a little too far too fast for my taste (excuse the awful pun here).
From a brand building perspective, though, I think this is a good move from Shan. As an internationally recognised brand, it makes perfect sense to capitalise on the Chinese influx in Pakistan. And given the way the commercial is making waves on social media with conversation and memes aplenty I think Shan has yet another hit on its hand. Pak-Cheen dosti zindabad!