Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in May-Jun 2015

Sauces and spices and all that’s nice

The sauces and spices category in Pakistan is ripe with possibilities.

Let’s face it. We are a food-obsessed nation. Food is not nutrition for us; it is entertainment, lifestyle and religion ALL rolled into one. “What should we eat today?” may well be the most common and liberating phrase spoken in Pakistan today. Add to this our traditional hospitality and you have a virtually endless canvas of food permutations and combinations for any given situation.

All this makes for a very fertile market in terms of meal customisation products such as sauces and spices. From an advertising point of view, the category is ripe with possibilities, yet the brands that are leveraging the right advertising strategy are few and far in between.

In my book, the bravest brand in the sauces category is Shezan, that old behemoth which seems to have eclipsed its more recent counterparts with an advertising campaign that was, even at its worst, well-differentiated from the competition. Nikal nikal must have been a tough campaign to get approvals on. I can well imagine the endless “But where is the product?” questions the agency must have had to endure. However, as far as ketchup advertising goes, the campaign was a step in the right direction. The creative strategy which advocates the thicker-is-better mantra was a powerful differentiator and has worked well for brands internationally.

The creative strategy used by Shezan was a powerful differentiator.
The creative strategy used by Shezan was a powerful differentiator.

The brand’s execution of the idea could have been grittier and the billboards would have benefited from a TV-independent approach. In fact, had the creative direction remained true to the idea but adapted to work across different media platforms, it would have provided better long term dividends. As for National Foods, apart from the catchy jingle, their ‘Ketchup zaroori’ campaign was a rare dud from a company that is usually pretty gung-ho about new initiatives and ideas. With a forgettable creative angle like that one, all the media muscle in the world will not help National escape from the clutches of mediocrity.

Apart from the catchy jingle, the 'Ketchup zaroori' campaign failed to create an impression.

We have also seen some pretty interesting stuff from new players, such as Naurus’ Chatkhaar. In contrast to the colourful bottles every other sauce brand has adopted, the Chatkhaar range stands out with its black artwork and font that evokes another era, giving it a premium look. Couple this with their ultramodern advertising strategy and the brand seems to be on the right track to create a differentiated image for itself. Although the TVC may not have run with the same frequency as the competition, the concept was refreshing, the visuals were attention-grabbing and the campaign made for an impressive introduction of the brand.

In the new players, Naurus’ Chatkhaar stood out with its black artwork bottles.
In the new players, Naurus’ Chatkhaar stood out with its black artwork bottles.

There are many other players in the market, but given their rather blah creative (think Shangrila, Knorr and the like) there is a lot of opportunity for concept-driven work to be executed in the category. For starters, agencies and brands need to realise that sauces are often more than just condiments; sometimes they become saviours. Sauces are table heroes that save you from swallowing unappetising food, and many awkward social situations (How many times have you managed to save face by swallowing your aunt’s sorry excuse for ‘Singaporean rice’ by adding liberal doses of ketchup to it?). I would love to see a campaign that flips the model and showcases food as the condiment and sauces as the main course. It can work wonders on-ground as well – “Would you like fries with your ketchup, sir?”

The spice category is a bigger market altogether. For the sake of simplicity, I am going to drop the product segmentation brands use and bundle spices (black pepper, turmeric powder, etc.) and recipes (biryani masala, haleem masala, etc.) together. Given our large population base, this is a lucrative and highly contested market, and not unlike Pakistani politics, despite all the hoopla about a third power, there really are only two players in this field; Shan and National Foods.

Having worked on a couple of projects for this category, I know that despite what the numbers say, Shan enjoys a stronger reputation in the market. Women swear by it and would sooner leave their husbands than switch to another brand. This is the almost cult-like perception that Shan commands within their target audience. Unfortunately, they have never really done much to leverage this goldmine of persuasion power. Shan’s advertising strategy has historically been ad-hoc. The campaigns are hard to tell apart, which is not surprising given that almost all the Shan advertising I have seen over the years consist of the same stunning, but done-to-death slow-motion shots. Beautiful? Yes. Memorable? Maybe not. The trend is so prevalent that I suspect Shan’s briefings start with a standard “We want you to use the Phantom Flex to shoot...” I can understand that the brand is restricted in its advertising approach by limitations stemming from the values of the parent company. However, a quick look at some international ad reels will show that this category does not need beautiful models or omnipresent slice of life visuals to convey the communication in a hard hitting way. There are better ways to script the communication while respecting the requirement of not showing the full human form.

National Foods continues to show time and time again that despite their seat at the top (they have been ranked among the top 10 brands in Pakistan twice by Brand Elections) they are willing to innovate and go for larger conceptual campaigns. Although they sometimes fall into the slow-motion shot trap (their recent ‘Kitchen cabinet’ campaign comes to mind), their advertising strategy is grounded in an idea-led approach rather than in just beautiful executions. The ‘Kitchen cabinet’ campaign has great potential as a big idea that can be translated into creative content for outdoor and BTL formats, which the company is already in the process of doing.

National’s campaign, ‘Hamaray khanay humara pyaar’, for their recipe range is another promising example of a good conceptual framework that can work across media. The fact that they have stuck to the underlying idea in their activation, digital, and outdoor campaigns, shows that National is serious about positioning itself as a brand that connects with its consumer base. The most powerful feather in their cap remains their breakthrough TV show National ka Pakistan, where a celebrity chef travels the width and breadth of the country, absorbing the culture and sharing the spirit of culinary adventure. This connection with reality is National’s biggest asset. The slickest of campaigns cannot beat real, genuine content.

Quietly carving out their own niche are Mehran Foods. The company is doing well internationally and should re-invest those dividends by undertaking a brand building exercise at home. Their creative campaign, ‘Hunr dilloun pe raj karnay ka’, is teeming with potential. If they would only take their advertising a little more seriously by adopting a tighter and more integrated approach and focus on innovation in their communication, they could become strong contenders to the dual hegemony now prevalent in the spices and recipes market.

There is great creative potential in this market. The moment brands and agencies agree with conviction that the target audience are real human beings rather than TV watching zombies, is when the clouds will part, sanity will prevail, and we will finally stop whining on Facebook about how Indian ads are better.

Umair Kazi is a partner at Ishtehari.