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Always looking for an opportunity to play with fire

A look back at the legacy left behind by Junaid Jamshed
Updated Dec 07, 2018 11:48am

Sir JJ is in the building

By Ayesha Shaikh


rticulate, insightful, intelligent and – despite the criticism often directed his way – extremely optimistic, was my initial perception of Junaid Jamshed when I first met him a few months ago at the launch of Jazaa Foods, his FMCG enterprise.

His journey, from a pop music icon with Vital Signs in the late 1980s, the change of heart and image that brought him back into the spotlight as a religious scholar in the late 1990s, to the dynamic businessman he is today, has been intriguing to say the least. Given the increasingly diverse product launches that he brought to the market recently, this was perhaps the ideal time to find out exactly what it is that drives Jamshed.

On taking risks and playing with fire

Audio excerpt from interview with JJ, conducted on September 2016

He comes from a family of decorated armed forces officers, a fact he shares with great pride; it was therefore expected of him and his two brothers to follow suit. Weak eyesight kept him out of the Air Force, so he joined the Pakistan Army, but once he began dabbling in music, the rigours of army training became too time-consuming to handle.

He quit and enrolled at the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore in 1985, graduated as an engineer and started his first job. That career switch, however, also turned out to be temporary. When 'Dil Dil Pakistan' was released on August 14, 1987 and became a chartbuster, it propelled Jamshed and his band members Rohail Hyatt and Shahzad Hasan to instant stardom. Pursuing a full-time engineering job was no longer feasible and Jamshed plunged headlong into the world of pop music, a first for anyone in his family. With a predominantly female fan following,he made, what many considered, another surprising decision: he got married at 26.

Showbiz is not as glamorous as one thinks

Audio excerpt from interview with JJ, conducted on September 2016

Upon learning this, I couldn’t refrain myself from asking Jamshed – who's sitting across the sofa in a tastefully decorated drawing room at his house in Karachi – what makes him take such massive risks? He always takes a moment to gather his thoughts before responding, “I grew up wanting to be an F-16 pilot; studied premedical in school; enrolled at an engineering university; pursued my passion for music and later gave it all up in my quest to be a better Muslim. I also had a family to support and that prompted me to look for ways I could earn a halal living which led to my first foray into business.”

Before I could ask why he chose to start a clothing business, he says that his extensive travels during his Vital Signs days exposed him to the latest fashion trends from across the world. Since looking good constituted a major part of his image and there was a dearth of local designers, he often ended up designing his own clothes. Relying on his sense of fashion and “instinctively knowing what looks good," encouraged him to try his hand at fashion design.

A survey of local markets made it evident that there were no quality options available for people who wanted to wear a smartly-cut and tailored shalwar kameez. As he was undergoing a personal metamorphosis during this time and was in the process of changing his wardrobe, he felt the absence of a shalwar kameez brand even more acutely.

JJ's keen eye for design

Audio excerpt from interview with JJ, conducted on September 2016

As soon as an opportunity came his way a few years later, Jamshed instantly decided to act upon it without delay (his signature personality trait). Along with his partner Sohail Hamid Khan, J. was launched in 2000, with the idea of creating custom-made khaddi shalwar kameez suits for men. The design philosophy for J. was simple; his own sense of style reflected in every article the brand designed. The risk began paying dividends and within a few years, J. expanded its portfolio to include a women’s line as well, supplemented by the launch of Almirah, a high-end ensemble brand. Initially, his involvement with both brands was extensive, with each design and print personally reviewed and approved. However, given the rapid expansion that J. experienced, professional textile designers were hired and Jamshed’s role became more strategic in nature. He is quick to point out that the one thing every J. store will always have are clothes in earth tones and whites, as these are the shades that appeal to him the most.

Jamshed’s favourite colours

Audio excerpt from interview with JJ, conducted on September 2016

Expecting to be sermonised, I hesitantly asked whether the thought had crossed his mind that going into women’s clothing or any other business for that matter, would raise eyebrows about it clashing with his ‘religious’ persona. He smiles and reminds me that “people often forget that our Holy Prophet (PBUH) was a very skilled and accomplished tradesman. Islam does not prohibit engaging in business, as long as it does not violate its tenets.”

Muslim women and halal make-up

Audio excerpt from interview with JJ, conducted on September 2016

In fact, he attributes his unprecedented success to implementing Islamic principles within each one of his businesses; a case in point was the Returns and Exchange Policy and loyalty card schemes that J. initiated. In his opinion, these policy decisions gave instant credibility to the brand, which in turn led to customer loyalty and retention.

What I find interesting is that despite never having studied marketing, Jamshed seems to have a flair for transforming a ‘Big Idea’ into a lucrative product that resonates with the target audience. He invested in Meat One, the first time a halal, packaged premium-quality meat brand was launched in Pakistan, believing that if people are given the option of buying hygienic meat, they will do so. This year alone, with an unrelenting focus on quality and innovation, he entered the food business by launching Jazaa rice, the cosmetic industry with halal makeup, and the personal grooming category with J. Fragrances.

Pervez Musharraf's love for J. products

Audio excerpt from interview with JJ, conducted on September 2016

Reminiscing, he says it was his mentor, Shoaib Mansoor, who instilled in him the importance of delivering value to people and keeping them engaged; not only in terms of his fans during his music days, but the team responsible for putting his shows together as well. He seems to have carried those values with him. Perhaps that is why he commands unquestioned loyalty and respect from the people he works with; in his absence (as I discovered when dealing with his team) he is reverentially and fondly referred to as ‘Sir JJ’.

As our hour-long conversation draws to a close, I brought up the media backlash he and his family had to face when a few of his controversial statements came to light. Fully prepared for an evasion, the directness of the response left me surprised.

“I have, like most other people, made mistakes. I have also, unlike most, sincerely apologised and repented. My family has remained my strongest support, personally and professionally.”

Irrespective of his personal or religious views, the popularity of J. which has transcended geographical boundaries, and the unexpected success (in the local and international market) that Jazaa rice, J. Fragrances and Meat One have achieved are testament to the fact that Jamshed’s success deserves recognition. Given his indefatigable optimism, market foresight and risk-taking nature, no one should be surprised, if in the coming months, we come across yet another innovation from ‘JJ’.

The author is a Business Development Executive, The Dawn Media Group.

This article was published in the Nov-Dec 2016 Aurora Magazine issue.

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Branding lessons from Junaid Jamshed

By Faran Mahmood


he much-criticised singer-turned-televangelist Junaid Jamshed may not be politically and religiously correct and has had his fair share of highs and lows, but the brand J. has consistently enjoyed strong sales over the last decade. This was evident when on September 3, the company announced that many items in their collection had sold out and customers were therefore requested to first confirm the availability of their item through an online request. This was not quite what may have been expected after Jamshed was accused of making misogynistic remarks about women in July.

Yet, a closer look at the brand’s core strategy suggests that the franchise is not totally built upon Jamshed’s celebrity but is backed by a solid business model with a strong value proposition.

Here are three vital lessons from J.’s success story. Lessons that demonstrate what it takes to separate winners from losers and how J. has used good design and in-trend fashion as a medium to influence the way consumers feel, think, and act towards patronising its stores.

Lesson 1: Swim in Blue Oceans

People’s choice of clothes is a statement about themselves, their values and identity. However, in the case of Pakistan’s clothing industry, the value curves of most players are virtually identical. So the real challenge for a fashion house is to remodel the market boundaries and break away from the competition.

“J. has found the ‘Holy Grail’ of fashion by targeting a unique segment of middle-class customers who are both conservative and fashion savvy at the same time.”

The company has successfully created a demand for Shariah-compliant designer outfits, with all the clothes approved and co-designed by religious figures such as Mufti Najeeb. This particular business model has given the brand a sustainable competitive advantage as existing fashion brands cannot imitate this model. Moving to an ‘Islamic’ mode would not only erode another brand’s original customer base, the fact is that this particular niche market is not lucrative enough to support multiple players. With such barriers in place, J. can continue to enjoy swimming in the clear blue waters of new market space for years to come.

Lesson 2: Branding is a dynamic process

Many run-of-the-mill fashion houses perceive consumers as passive recipients of their brand message. This does not make sense in the context of a complex business environment where brands need to evolve in response to changing consumer perception. J. was quick to realise this when the brand coined its tagline 'Soully East' last year to emphasise its tilt towards eastern values. This has helped the company design creative marketing campaigns - J. has a policy of not showing faces on its billboard advertisements. Most of its advertisements depict designs of the brand's prints superimposed on other objects such as yachts, vintage cars and flowers.

Lesson 3: Word-of-mouth sells

J. saves a lot of money by not having to hire expensive models for its photoshoots, nor does it rely a lot on TV commercials. Jamshed, as the primary face of the brand himself, subtly promotes the business by participating in various TV shows.

Furthermore, the house rarely advertises its gold and silver card customer loyalty program, and frankly it doesn’t need to as at present, the loyalty program has over one million customers. Such is the power of word-of-mouth marketing!

“Jamshed, as the primary face of the brand himself, subtly promotes the business by participating in various TV shows.”

Final word: Jamshed is not the Richard Branson of Pakistan but his personality traits have strongly influenced J.’s brand personality. Until now, the brand has thrived not because of his charisma but because of an inherent strong business model and a unique branding strategy which is difficult to imitate. Fashion branding is all about multimillion-dollar budgets, celebrity endorsements and creating media hype – however it also involves telling a compelling story.

Jamshed’s misogynistic comments and misadventures call for a decoupling of the brand from the image of the veteran singer himself and give a strongly independent identity to the brand. After all we believe that every brand has a story to tell and J. is no different. However, the most important thing is to tell the right story the right way — one that provides value to the consumers.

The writer is a Cambridge graduate and is working as a management consultant. He tweets at @faranmah

This article was originally published in Oct 2016 on Aurora's online blog.

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Jazaa in every meal

By Ayesha Shaikh


espite an international taste preference and demand for Pakistani rice, Pakistan has dropped to 13th place in terms of global rice production (despite the opportunity to increase its market size by 50%), mainly because of a lack of quality variants (Source: United States Department of Agriculture, 2016). Recognising this demand-supply gap, Jazaa Foods (an FMCG company established by Junaid Jamshed in November 2015) launched Jazaa rice in March this year as a premium quality brand designed to tap into this global market potential.

The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics estimates the total volume of the rice industry at approximately 6.9 million metric tons, of which 40 to 45% goes towards local consumption and the rest is exported. The category comprises basmati (Pakistan’s claim to fame, grown in Punjab), irri (cultivated in Sindh), parboiled (colloquially known as sela in Punjab) and brown rice (grown on a very limited scale on rocky terrains in Northern Pakistan).

According to Ali Jabbar, CEO, Jazaa Foods, “as a staple crop, rice has traditionally been dominated by wholesale suppliers, where the business model relies on low-cost milling and production – and the hope of a steady monsoon season.”

Unbranded khulla chawal accounts for almost 96% of the total industry output. There are only a handful of branded players and these include Matco’s Falak, Engro Eximp’s Rymah and Guard Basmati – the focus here has always been on export markets, because of the higher profit margins. Jabbar says, “There was no brand catering to the growing domestic demand for quality, branded rice and we wanted to take advantage of this gap.”

Given that rice has the third largest crop production output in Pakistan (Source: Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, 2015), supply was not a problem and according to Jamshed, Director Jazaa Foods, the “real challenge was to select rice variants of the highest quality, add value through standardised milling, and bring Jazaa rice to market as an affordable product of the highest quality.”

The name of the company as well as the brand originated from this extensive focus on delivering value-added products. Jazaa translates to ‘reward’ or a ‘fulfilling return’, which is appropriate, as Jamshed’s vision for Jazaa Foods is to establish Pakistan’s first FMCG initiative producing branded consumption commodities of the highest quality.

“Despite the stringent quality control standards the product was subjected to, I wanted to ensure that Jazaa rice remains affordable for every Pakistani household.” — Junaid Jamshed

Interestingly, the inspiration for Jazaa rice came from Indian brand Tilda, a major player in the international market, which relies on delivering the best tasting rice. “I wanted to replicate Tilda’s success in Pakistan, which is why despite the stringent quality control standards the product was subjected to, I wanted to ensure that Jazaa rice would remain affordable for every Pakistani household.”

Implementing this vision meant that the pricing strategy had to be carefully devised so that the brand would be affordable across most socio-economic groups. To ensure this, Jazaa rice was launched in five variants, each of which has two SKUs: Jazaa Elite Steam Rice (Rs 199/one kg; Rs 985/five kg), Jazaa Premium Basmati (Rs 170/one kg; Rs 840/five kg), Sela Gold Rice (Rs 160/one kg; Rs 790/five kg), Basmati Rice (Rs 140/one kg; Rs 690/five kg) and Economy Rice (Rs 110/one kg; Rs 540/5 kg). To put it into context, a one-kilogram pack of unbranded rice sells for between Rs90 and Rs100, while a similar quantity of branded rice is priced at between Rs120 and Rs160.

However, Jamshed was keen to ensure that this affordability did not come at the expense of product quality. “From the onset, I believed that to grab market share, Jazaa rice would have to deliver quality and taste in every pack.”

Industry insiders have often pinpointed the lack of adequate processing facilities as the reason why Pakistani rice is of poor quality and Jazaa Foods expected to encounter a similar challenge. However, the team was pleasantly surprised to find that a robust infrastructure for refining, processing and packaging rice was already in place. The problem, they discovered, is that the major rice players prefer to minimise the cost of production and are thus unwilling to make the required investment to improve quality.

Jazaa Foods, however, believe that investing time and money early on will hold the brand in good stead and yield optimal returns in the long run. Therefore, from the time the rice is purchased from designated plantations in Punjab to when it is transported to the milling unit at Port Qasim, the company closely monitors the supply chain. Furthermore, prior to packaging, every grain of rice is inspected by an internationally trained, in-house quality assurance team, and it is only after their approval that the rice is packaged for distribution. According to Jamshed, “the critical success factors for Jazaa rice, locally and internationally, are extensive refining as well as packaging that is not only attractive, but complies with international food packaging regulations.”

While the brand vision is to take Jazaa rice global, currently the brand’s distribution (which began in Karachi) has been limited to supermarkets, grocery shops and kiryana stores across Pakistan.

In what can safely be termed a packaging innovation for branded rice in Pakistan, the pack of each of the five variants carries a product shot of a meal cooked with that particular rice variety. This has not only helped the packaging grab eyeballs on retail shelves, but, as Jabbar explains, “it has helped create awareness about which kind of rice is most suited for which recipe. For instance, most people are unaware that sela rice is ideal for biryani and pulao.”

In the four months since its launch, Jazaa rice has managed to carve out a place for itself. The Jazaa Foods team is particularly proud of this achievement because instead of opting for an extensive ATL-driven prelaunch campaign, it opted to let word-of-mouth promotions drive sales. In addition, a chunk of the initial marketing budget was allocated to trade activation initiatives, including having store interceptors at select outlets hand out product samples to generate trial and consumption. “The rationale,” Jamshed states, “was that once people experience the taste of Jazaa rice, they will not be satisfied with any other brand or variety of rice.” Product placement in cooking shows, particularly during Ramazan, was also a strategy that helped increase brand awareness and recall.

To make the brand even more accessible, free home delivery within Karachi is being offered and orders can be placed by logging on to “The advantage,” Jabbar says, “is that there is no minimum order quantity and people can order even a pack of one kilogram.”

A traditional ATL campaign, conceived, designed and executed by Ailaan Advertising, was launched after the product distribution had started.

Planning is now underway to launch export operations, where the challenge will be the extensive product quality and packaging regulations.

Considering Jazaa rice’s export potential, Jamshed adds, “I realise that our expenses will increase substantially, but in my experience, the export market is where the maximum profits are. An important incentive is the presence of large Pakistani expatriate communities in those markets who will welcome a quality brand that will give the traditional aroma and flavour they are accustomed to.”

The author is a Business Development Executive, The Dawn Media Group.

This article was originally published in Aurora's Jul-Aug 2016 edition.

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