Things have changed in the decade since I joined advertising. The internet is an accepted medium, digital and social media are part of the consideration set, the quality of outdoor advertising is better, production values for commercials have improved and we have even created advertising that we can proudly own as Pakistanis.
However, as the popular saying goes, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’ Our industry seems to be stuck in a systemic rut due to an obsession with exposure. There is no denying the fact that exposure is an essential component in the advertising process (in AIDA and other models), but in our market there is an overemphasis on its effectiveness.
Years ago, Seth Godin spoke about how, in order to stand out, brands need to think differently. As his famous example of the purple cow demonstrated, although everyone hates getting lost in the marketing clutter, not every brand is making the best effort to break from that clutter and resonate with consumers. To really stand out, brands needed to stop shouting louder and market smarter.
As marketers were coming to terms with Godin’s revolution, another blow to the advertising establishment was being dealt. In 2007-08 the marketing world started talking about another e-word touted to replace the archaic ‘exposure’; this was engagement. Marketing was, we were told, a two-way street and just catching eyeballs was not effective. Customers, empowered by social media and technology were shifting the paradigm and embracing dialogue. Smart marketers, trying to navigate the changed scenario, were exploring the world of interaction and engagement.
Although social media has come to our shores and we are abreast with most of the technology that is transforming the world we live in, Pakistani marketing has failed to move on from exposure. In an era where marketing is deemed to be highly result oriented, our marketers can only measure their ROI in terms of eyeballs and reach (indirectly linking it to sales). Whether due to a lack of data or inertia, few if any, like to rock the boat of tried and tested practice.
Although everyone hates getting lost in the marketing clutter, not every brand is making the best effort to break from that clutter and resonate with consumers. To really stand out, brands needed to stop shouting louder and market smarter.
For marketers in Pakistan as well as all over the world, the Holy Grail is creating word of mouth. Yet, unlike their counterparts in other markets, Pakistani brand teams (client and agency) seek to create buzz through the single-minded approach of making it large. This is why marketing practitioners, even within multinational FMCGs, constantly complain that their media budget is not enough; they cannot afford the largest OOH all year round and they do not have the budgets required to shoot a five minute TVC. For them, everything seems a trade-off and they always seem to be getting the short end of the stick.
Yet, if emphasis were to be put on how to make things effective and avoid wastage in terms of media exposure while creating context for consumers, marketers might achieve better results. The flaw in our system is also the result of the erroneous belief that to achieve unified communication, the same visual and message across all touch points is required. In their desire to maintain campaign cohesion, Pakistani brands create print ads that come across as TVC stills and OOH executions that seem to be blow- ups of the print campaign. Even with digital, banners and online ads are never truly interactive. This suggests a glaring disrespect for the strengths of each medium as well as a patronising view of the Pakistani consumer.
Recently, on Cream (a great repository of the best use of media around the globe; www.creamglobal.com) I came across an interesting Chilean case study. A local retail store for electronics and home appliances, ABCDIN changed its focus from awareness to creating emotional connect. Mindshare, their media agency, wanted to delight consumers at a time of day when they were usually not particularly happy. They realised that the target audience endured a boring daily commute to and from work and found out through surveys, that most of them used their mobile phones during their monotonous journey. Mindshare came up with the idea to use the well known Chilean impersonator and comedian, Stefan Kramer, to create a series of made-for-mobile videos, called Viaja Happy or Happy Life, with Kramer making jokes about the mode of transport they were using to commute.
Mindshare then created an immersive experience by branding the inside of buses and subways with images of Kramer’s different characters. Wraps were placed around the newspapers that were distributed free at the bus and subway terminals and commuters were invited to scan a QR code to view the content. Once they had viewed the video(s), they were invited to enter a lucky draw to win a 43 inch TV. This campaign is a brilliant example of how brands are refining the marketing function and moving from exposure to engagement.
Worldwide there is a push to refine marketing efforts even further. Dominique Delport, CEO Havas, when talking about Havas’ Meaningful Brands study, pointed out that a startling 75% of brands have no emotional connection with consumers because of the focus the media puts on exposure. In his words, “media investment is not enough; it can expose but not engage.” Delport advocates the creation of content and value in order to really become an integral part of their audiences’ lives. In the new media environment of owned, earned and paid, the Havas CEO’s advice is, do not do away with paid media but realise that it does not guarantee consumer engagement or build trust.
A simple way to make the jump from exposure to engagement is to use technology. Recently mobile operators were informing us of their 3G and 4G offerings. Sadly, none of them placed a QR code in the print ads they published. Yet, it was great to see the use of SMS short codes in campaigns, such as the Platinum teaser pole signs from Gul Ahmed. Even without technology, if context is created, engagement can occur. For example, at a bus stop let your audience know that there are germs lurking there; a subtle cue to motivate them to wash their hands regularly.
Globally, marketers have taken a leaf out of the book of Lester Wunderman (the father of interactive), who believed a consumer’s time is valuable and should not to be wasted. If the mantra of effective engagement is adopted and the Pakistani ad industry moves on from exposure, it will be a win-win situation for both consumers and marketers alike.
Tyrone Tellis is a marketing professional working in Pakistan.