Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Has the son risen?

Published in Mar-Apr 2014

No matter what your opinion is about Bilawal, if you live in Karachi, the chances are that you cannot ignore him.

Warning: This article is dangerous for your health. Before you start reading, take a deep breath, put on some soft music and keep Angesid (angina attack pills) nearby. Most importantly, take off your political hat and set all your personal biases aside. This is a marketing analysis, not a political one.

February 13th, 7:45 pm: one day before Valentine’s Day and I am at a salon waiting for my turn to look pretty for my wife and my clients, I spot a man reading a copy of Newsweek with Bilawal Bhutto on the cover that reads, ‘The son also rises’. The moment the man leaves, I pick up the magazine but my concentration is diverted to a conversation that ensues. Everyone in the waiting area has something to say about Bilawal’s Sindh Fest and mostly not good things. The biggest flaw they are able to come up with is why did he copy the Superman logo? I will come back to this.

But first, my take on the Sindh Festival is – kudos. I loved it, as it restored my faith in marketing. Before I tell you why, let me clarify a point. This was not a Sindh Festival campaign; it was a Bilawal Bhutto launch campaign. And the way I judge a campaign is based on a simple reverse engineering process. Guessing what the brief was and how effectively the creative was delivered.

In this case the target audience was the key. On the political landscape there are two clearly defined groups. The conservatives and the liberals. The PPP has traditionally relied on the liberals. The liberals are now divided into two groups – staunch supporters of Imran Khan and those who are confused. Confused because they are not sure whether IK is a liberal or a hardcore conservative given the confused signals the PTI has been sending in the past few months. In my opinion, the PPP is now banking on two groups. One, the jiyalas who will vote for a polling booth if the name Bhutto is written on it and two, people who are looking for an alternative – the ‘undecided’ as they are known in political terms.

This is the bull’s eye in a marketing context.

Unlike Bilawal, everyone does love Steve Jobs and one of my favourite quotes is found in the copy he wrote for Apple computer: “You can glorify them or vilify them, but the one thing you can’t do is ignore them.”

No matter what your opinion is about Bilawal (or the creative aspect of the campaign), if you live in Karachi, the chances are that you cannot ignore him. I am a firm believer in the ‘when the world zigs, you zag’ theory. So while Pakistan’s political landscape is engrossed in fighting for the survival of the country – here comes a guy who says: “Don’t worry, be happy; let’s party.”

And this alone ensures that he stands out from the depressing and fear mongering crowd. Here is a brand that offers something that is unique and not available in the market. Admittedly, it is targeted at a niche audience – not everyone wants it, but then Red Bull is surviving because not everyone wants Pepsi, although Pepsi makes a lot of sense given that it is priced at one tenth of Red Bull. So you chose the bull’s eye. Granted risky, but nevertheless an audience. You differentiate yourself from the competition, you see a need and create a USP – Bilawal gets that right too.

If you assess it as an integrated marketing communication campaign, it scores 10 out of 10. From billboards to storyboards, from social media to brand activation, there is no way you could have missed this campaign. I bet if its TRPs were calculated they would score very high.

Now, coming the question of the Superman logo – and for the record I refuse to believe that the brains behind the Bilawal campaign did not know or believe that people would not link it with Superman. In advertising there are two kinds of puns. Word play and visual puns – (a few months ago Sattar Buksh used it brilliantly with the Starbucks logo) a technique that has been done in the past and will continue to be used in the future. So in my opinion the people who are celebrating the fact that DC Comics are suing Bilawal are getting a bit ahead of themselves. They are being stupid. It was intentional and it was brazen. The kind I like.

So, if you are wearing your marketing hat, then judge the campaign as you would any other campaign. And remember it is the numbers that deliver the final verdict. So far the campaign has been covered by leading media, and not just in Pakistan (BBC, CNN and Sky News to name a few). In only two months, out of nowhere there is now a third option for your next prime minister. You may hate the thought, but you cannot deny that Bilawal has appeared on the political landscape with a bang. I may not vote for him, but I will definitely vote for his marketing manager.

Neil P. Christy is CEO, Headlion.