Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The effect of imperialism in design

Updated 03 Apr, 2017 03:04pm

How our local product packaging is evolving from ethnic and colourful to minimalist and restrained.

I used to wonder what imperialism was. Literally speaking, it is defined as the policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power of a nation, especially by directing territorial acquisitions or gaining control over the political and economic life of other dominions.

You may be wondering, what I am on about? Let me explain: I realised imperialism is innate in our society. It is something we are bombarded with day in and out. It is what we are exposed to as aspirational and programmed to admire, whether it’s the media, the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, what we like on Facebook, or even the way we are corrected in our enunciation.

And this is a constant we grow up with. It is reiterated in school, at university and so on. When I was at university, I was asked to look upon international brands as benchmarks. Apple was the benchmark for user-friendly and minimalism, Coke was the holy grail of concepts, Indian content was humorous and edgy and Europe was where you found depth and art. Pakistan was nationalistic, cultural, patriotic and political. Those were the thoughts I was comfortable with and the ones I brought to my career. However, over the past couple of years I have noticed a shift. Yes, we are still patriotic and political, however, the brands I grew up with, particularly the ones in my kitchen have changed. My kitchen went from looking bright and ethnic to minimalistic. It left me craving colour, culture and warmth. Let’s observe five Pakistani brands and their imperialistic evolution:

Shan Foods

Over the past decade, Shan have subtly curated their change. They went from ochre yellow to subtle greens to minimalism. To be honest they needed the change – desperately. I understand the need to standardise the packaging because their product line expanded.

Their old and new designs are still stocked simultaneously in stores, and from a design point of view the new packaging is more effective and easier to identify – so this has been a success in a lot of areas. However, this is an ethnic brand with nothing ethnic about its packaging.

National Foods

National has also begun a shift. While Shan is embracing clean, clear designs for their range, National Foods is at a midpoint; in fact it is transitioning. Their frozen food line is modern, the photography comparatively cleaner and they have retained their gold strip which brings authenticity. The motifs is the constant brand identity which in their masalas, ready-to-cook and curry powders.

Although there is a lot that can be further addressed, the design is ethnic and familiar; a bit confusing but close to home.


Here I am talking about two products. The first are their juices. When I was younger, there was Frooto and Shezan. I loved Shezan’s packaging with their hand-made illustration and no-nonsense, to-the-point design. However, a few years ago a friend couldn’t stop talking about how amazing the new packaging was. I roamed the aisles in search of the juice range, but couldn’t find them until someone pointed them out to me.

This was because I associate white with milk so I assumed it was flavoured milk! Design wise it’s on-point, but the messaging for anyone who has no clue what it is, is a fail for me, and I missed the familiar illustrations.

Shezan tomato ketchup on the other hand succeeded, because it was done right. It’s clear, it’s colourful, and to the point. The red is still there and always will be; the signature tomato is there so is the yellow I associate with it. Definitely a step up from the other brands.


Tapal has been through many changes but what has stayed intact is the deep customised red. And this is why they are a winner; they don’t leave me wanting for more. They don’t leave me wondering who they are and what they stand for, they are home, and that’s why they succeed. Tapal used to come in a loose brown bag and I have seen my mom use it for her tea and now when I’m walking down the aisle, despite it’s clear, non-desi design, I know what the brand is and what it stands for.

Modern media, with all its technological advancements has broken down barriers; one can even argue that we are slowly inching towards a global culture which is likely to influence our traditions, norms and viewpoints. The reason I picked home-grown brands is because of the ties they have had with us since our childhood. The reality is that imperialism will continue to haunt us, and this doesn’t mean there isn’t any pride in adapting to change. I see it as growth, an evolution for every brand, which can either remain close to their roots grow for future generations.

Sana Naeem is Creative Director, The Brand Crew.