Sometimes you’ve got to break rank. No, I’m not talking about breaking the rules or getting yourself into trouble. I’m talking about letting your brand appear human, letting it feel and making others feel. The life of a brand manager used to be pretty simple and ideal: You’re in charge of a brand where you and your agency devise slick campaigns and ideas to elevate the perception of the brand. In Pakistan, it’s especially about appearing refined, in control, buttons tightly-buttoned, hair nicely blow-dried, makeup on point and not a feather out of place.
The advertising culture in Pakistan isn’t very open to showing real emotion or vulnerability. Granted, we’ve watched enough Indian ads to soften up a bit, but we’re still not there entirely. We stop short of being completely raw, honest and representing a true reflection of the ‘aam awaam’ (the average citizen). We still can’t help glossing things up and adding a touch of aspiration and up-market happiness.
But this can’t fly for long. With brands now having to keep up with social media and its ever-evolving ‘wokeness’ (defined by Urban Dictionary as a measurable state of awareness about what's happening in the world), brands now have to pay closer attention to what people want, because consumers no longer limit their dissatisfaction for the brand to small talk and their living rooms. They can now get on to Twitter or Facebook and let the brand know how they feel. This means that brand managers and their agencies now have to sit up and keep up. They must react to criticism, laugh when the consumer laughs and to an extent, mourn when the consumer mourns. With the expectations for brands to be more human, the range of emotions expressed must be there too. And while it’s easy to celebrate with your followers, mourning is subjective and for a brand, challenging.
That said, there are brands out there that have succeeded in saying the right thing at the right time. A local favourite is Espresso; the café. Not a brand to shy away from being straight-forward and blunt on good days, Espresso always sends out a message of support and hope in dark times, which shows that they are paying attention to what is happening in the country, all the while keeping the sensitivity of the situation in mind.
Another example is Careem. In times of emergency and confusion, the brand has been known to cut fares or offer free rides to those affected. Internationally, you’ve got brands like Airbnb and Facebook who activate ‘disaster response services’ for people; it’s not an ad – it’s a smart way of responding and customising services accordingly.
That’s what matters. It’s not always about a nicely-designed ad. Every brand has to respond to situations in a way that is relevant to their brand, while being careful to not appear as if they are ‘selling themselves ’. So pay attention, brands. Go ‘woke’ or go home!