Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Branding Pakistan

Updated Jul 19, 2017 03:08pm
Can branding London’s double-decker buses change the global negative perception of Pakistan?

As Pakistanis we have learnt to enjoy small moments of happiness, rainfall in Karachi, the lights coming on, a long weekend. Add to the latest, the hype and celebration over the campaign by Pakistan’s High Commission in London.

If you have not heard about the campaign, Pakistan’s High Commission have paid for London’s double-decker buses to display images representative of Pakistan for four weeks to promote tourism. The campaign is part of the 70th Independence Anniversary celebrations. The images display beautiful faces representing the people, landscape, architecture and artifacts of Pakistan. Pakistan’s High Commissioner, H.E. Syed Ibne Abbas, speaking to the press had this to say: “This publicity campaign showcases the beauty of Pakistan, its culture, landscape and people, and will help promote tourism in Pakistan in the most effective way.”

The campaign has gone viral and trended on Facebook, at least locally, and anything positive in the global media about Pakistan is a blessing. The question from a marketing point of view is whether this campaign has been effective?

Taking into consideration the fact that it is part of a larger promotional campaign to be rolled out, I have my doubts. My first issue is with the tag ‘Emerging Pakistan’. This slogan or positioning does not differentiate Pakistan from any other nation in the region. India spent billions on their ‘Incredible India’ campaign and Malaysia described itself as ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’. This particular phrase lacks warmth and emotion, in my view.

In order to fight the trend of negative news about Pakistan we need to use Behaviour Economics and work to shift the paradigm. Here is a suggested strategy. The paradigm for people in the West is that Pakistan is a dangerous and hostile place. We can employ that construct and turn it on its head to change the perception. How can this be done? A plausible way is to create material that seems to endorse the perception but actually refutes it. For example a print ad with the headline ‘When you come to Pakistan, you are in danger. Of falling in love with the beauty and people.’ The body copy could elaborate and evokes the style that made PIA ads great, inform people about the positive aspects of Pakistan.

Another angle could be to use popular culture. Use peoples’ frame of reference and play with it to communicate what you want to. This campaign could be a print ad in leading Western papers such as The Telegraph, etc. The ad could show a picture of green mountain pastures with the Karakorams in the background. The headline could be something like. ‘They wanted to film the Hobbit in Pakistan but our mountains were too high.’ The body copy could build on this with facts about Pakistan having a good number of peaks over of 8,000m and pristine and majestic mountains.

These are just suggestions, I am sure you get the idea, but in my view just showing images on a bus alone will not be enough to challenge the perception that has been created about Pakistan. Again, there is more to come from the Pakistan’s High Commission so let’s keep our fingers crossed.

In the recent past, the tide of negativity towards Pakistan has been dented with the experiences of Westerners who visit our country and then dispel the impression that Pakistan is a country of violence, terrorism and extremism. One such video is the ‘Rachel visits Pakistan’ video:

In my view this video is more effective than the bus campaign or any government statement. The best way to bring tourists to Pakistan is to let the foreigners and influencers from other countries show the world that Pakistan has a lot to offer. At present, we have just witnessed a historic event. In a seemingly fairytale scenario, Ronaldinho, the Brazilian football superstar along with some of the most iconic footballers such as Roberto Carlos, Robert Pires, Ryan Giggs have played two matches, one in Karachi and one in Lahore. For the ever increasing football following and for Pakistan this is a great achievement.

When it comes to changing the negative perception and projecting a positive image, the video of Rachel as well as a sound bite or video from Ronaldinho are much more effective than pretty images on London buses or any outdoor campaign in a Western capital city.