What’s the similarity between a police mobile with a Pakistan flag and a brand’s 14th August commercial? They are both branded vehicles and poorly branded ones at that. Why am I comparing a production that cost a millions of rupees to the law enforcement’s laughable attempt at patriotism? It’s because for most of the year, the police only partially do their jobs and essentially harass people but this Independence Day, they’ve decided to do some flag waving as well.
It’s the same for brands. All year round they shoot their TVCs in Bangkok, get their post done in Bangkok or India, employ foreign directors and ignore Pakistani talent but come August 14th and they are all praising the land, celebrating the people and trying to increase the sale of tissues with tear inducing commercials.
Why do brands paint in limited shades of green (so to speak) when our culture and traditions offer a palette of diversity? I blame the agencies for focusing on execution and sacrificing concept and strategy, often plugging in stars or rehashing a nostalgic milli naghma for added affect. They usually get away with it but sometimes it backfires like the Coca-Cola World Cup ad in 2015 with a plethora of stars singing the ‘92 anthem. The star power could not do justice to the original song and Coca-Cola had to rethink its strategy.
So how can brands do the whole patriotism thing right? Very few Pakistani brands have discovered the secret and as far as I know Indian brands haven’t either. However here are some examples of commercials that built brands and promoted patriotism and got it right.
Coca-Cola Rainbow Nation
In 2014, South Africa celebrated the 20th anniversary of the end of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela in 2004. Using the phrase rainbow nation, coined by human rights activist Desmond Tutu to refer to the country’s diverse population, Coca Cola created rainbows out of recycled water, sunlight and as creativity online says “some magic”. So there was a rainbow wherever there was a Coke billboard. Amazingly, the rainbows even reached the ground so that people could see what was at the end of the rainbow.
Ufone Shukria Pakistan 2010
Ufone Shukria Pakistan TVC by Interflow.
Yes, to some this country may not seem perfect. Yes, a lot of people would have complaints. But when was the last time you noticed just one of the countless blessings of Pakistan and thanked it for that? Lets for a change consider all the good things about Pakistan as well. It has done one thankless job flawlessly for the last 63 years. Aftab, you real gem of a person, all of Pakistan is seeing you and is being inspired by you!Posted by Shahab Ahmad Khan on Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Yes, this tune is on everyone’s lips these days thanks to the Coke Studio promo. However I really love the haunting flute in this super simple ad. Ufone used a musician who cannot see rather than going for a big name. They reinforced the patriotic message by showing a person who has a sense of gratitude despite his limitations. Yes, we all need to say Shukria Pakistan.
Azm e Alishaan (various efforts)
Coincidentally, both the Ufone ad and Azm e Alishan are projects created by Interflow. This organisation or NGO became prominent in 2010. They created an image of the Minar e Pakistan online and divided it into pixels. As each person pledged their azm, the pixel would be displayed. Their aim was to complete the whole image, but sadly they failed. However Azm e Alishaan has done yeoman’s service to the nation. They held the Azm awards and created Amal teams to pick up all the flags that are left as garbage on the morning of August 15th. Truly an admirable initiative and they keep doing. They also are attempting social reform by re-education.
So how do brands create a differentiated and touching commercial to proclaim their love for Pakistan? The answer is in the image below.
If you follow cricket you know that this is the Ashes urn, the trophy that English and Australian cricketers battle to possess every one and a half years. Yes, it’s a small thing but it is also very powerful. The power of the Ashes lies not in its size but in what it symbolises.
This is in my view the key to better and more strategic August 14th commercials/advertising.
"Embrace symbolism, but not the usual stuff like the flag or the Quaid or the mili naghmas. Find something from our culture, our history, our dreams, and even our fears and use it."
Use it to do what, you may ask?
What does the Ashes urn cause the two rival teams to do? To give your all and do your best in the cause you are fighting for. So yes, Pakistani brands please listen and learn from Azm e Alishan.
“Sohni dharti ke dhun lagana to acha hai bhai, lekin yeh bhi kam he ke sikha de, kaise khayal rakhna mulk ka” (It’s great to sing Sohni Dharti but we must also learn how to care for the country)
It’s either that or your million rupee commercials ending up the same way as the flags that line the roads on August 15th: part of the celebrations and festivities but not important enough to be saved and cherished.