Twenty-three years is quite a long time to be in the marketing and advertising business, especially in a country that is only 70 years old; in fact, it is literally one-third of that period. I have seen many changes and some things that have not changed at all.
Here is my take on what worked then, what continues to work now, and what does not work anymore.
I am an IBA graduate, class of 1994; the most difficult business school to get into. Run by the late Dr Abdul Wahab, the IBA prepared you for the challenges of life and the quality of people coming into it and then out into the world of marketing was exceptional. I was very lucky to work for and learn from Sabir Sami and Mohammad Anwar (both IBA grads) at P&G when I started my work life. I was also lucky to have as clients, some of the finest marketing people of that era; Aly Mustansir, Amir Paracha, Farheen Salman, Haseeb ur Rehman and Qashif Effendi (all IBA grads) to mention a few. They helped co-create some of my best work. The magic is always in the talent that rubs against any brand. However, I cannot say the same about the talent I see walking in the marketing corridors of most multinational and national companies today, although there are exceptions. In those days, professionalism was at its peak, work ethics were strong and work was a personal mission. Hard work and learning were the bedrocks upon which people then laid their beliefs. Today, the values and beliefs have changed and despite the fact that there are so many more business schools and a much larger pool of marketing people coming out of them, the quality has become lost in the quantity.
The story is entirely different at the agency end. The growth in the number of business and art schools has helped draw in smarter people to the agencies. The old-fashioned ‘pigeons’ in client servicing (carriers of agency work) are no longer a common sight. Creatives are now vying hard to match or exceed international best practices. The agency business also benefitted from the new disciplines that have emerged (activation, PR and digital) and the result is that more people are now drawn to the agency world than ever before, and this is good for the industry.
Over the past 15 years, I have built a new marketing discipline (activation) through my agency Bulls Eye; an approach aimed at making brands look beyond TV advertising and adopt smarter marketing approaches and newer ways.
When I started my career at P&G, the first brand I worked on was Camay. TV commercials were the favoured platform to market products then. A blockbuster TV ad was produced by a top international director in Paris for Camay. This commercial was supposedly the most expensive TV ad of the time; and this fascination with it being the most expensive TVC persists today. This makes me smile, because expense never will be a key marketing ingredient for success. Success comes from having a good marketing brain. Yet, old habits die hard and even today marketers want to produce the most expensive TVC in a foreign country and with a top international director. This approach feeds the marketer’s ego and not the brand’s. With the fragmentation of the media, getting audiences to watch your TVC has become more and more challenging. This is why, over the past 15 years, I have built a new marketing discipline (activation) through my agency Bulls Eye; an approach aimed at making brands look beyond TV advertising and adopt smarter marketing approaches and newer ways.
Consumer trial promotions
In my early P&G days, consumer promotions was another favourite way of marketing products. What made our consumer trial promotions unique was the fact that we leveraged Neelam Ghar, the most successful TV show of the time (a 40% TV rating on PTV). In today’s world, we would call this content integration; in those days, it was a first-of-its-kind, smart marketing move. We created a segment whereby the show would go to the consumer’s doorstep and if they happened to have Camay at home, they would win a gold coin. This approach became a successful model in many other global markets. Today, consumer promotions are not as effective as they used to be (consumer trust and participation has declined), and the first choice is door-to-door sampling or selling. The activation business over these last two decades has grown over this one key product offering, so that today my agency spends a lot of time designing massive door-to-door sampling and selling programmes for many brands.
When I started at P&G, media was a brand management responsibility and we spent a lot of time thinking about our brand and our media plan. This important learning is not available to brand management people today and it has affected the all-round development of a brand person. Media is where most of the marketing money goes and most brand people haven’t a clue about it. What has been lost is the individual thinking that went into media planning for different brands, so that although media buying is definitely cheaper done through independent media agencies, the one-size-fits-all formula does not help different brands facing different challenges and the effectiveness of a media plan is questioned by all client companies, despite the specialisation. In fact, I don’t see the specialisation here; it is just wholesale purchasing.
The activation space has so much potential, and in my opinion, it will replace the term advertising. Activation is advertising done in a more robust and powerful way and will come to encompass traditional advertising, digital and PR. It is the fastest growing marketing discipline and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Emergence of activation
When I started out, the term activation did not exist in marketing lingo. In 1999, while working at Interflow as a strategic planner, I attended a course by Unilever where the concept of activation was presented to us. It was a term coined by Coca-Cola Worldwide and it introduced a new kind of marketing. Activation became a buzzword and Unilever encouraged brands to explore creative ways to look beyond traditional TV and print advertising and go for a two-way, consumer interactive experience. This appealed to me and when I started Bulls Eye in 2002, I was certain that the market did not need another ad agency; it definitely needed a new type of agency offering something different.
Although we were looked upon as an activation agency, my vision had always been of a hybrid brand-consultancy-driven creative agency that looked beyond traditional solutions. My first client ironically was Unilever, to this day my biggest and favourite client. The activation concept which my agency initiated helped set up a new specialist industry in Pakistan. The activation space has so much potential, and in my opinion, it will replace the term advertising. Activation is advertising done in a more robust and powerful way and will come to encompass traditional advertising, digital and PR. It is the fastest growing marketing discipline and is showing no signs of slowing down.
The introduction of digital in Pakistan has caused a lot of fanfare. As marketers we should learn that all hype and no substance, is not marketing. Digital is growing quickly because the base is low. In Pakistan, digital means a website and a Facebook page and I see brands posting content just for the sake of posting, without any substance, meaning or connection established with the audiences. Content is key to digital and activation and advertising have to converge for digital to realise its true potential. Only activation and advertising people have content creation and brand experience and not the tech-driven digital agencies. Keeping digital separate, the medium will have limited impact and clients need to understand that digital is a medium, like TV, print and radio, and that the best-placed people to build a brand on this medium are the creative agencies.
My passion for marketing is no less today than it was when I embarked on this mission 23 years ago. What excites me is the return to the one-agency model. Specialisation has created as many problems as it has solved and I see all the marketing disciplines (advertising, activation, digital and PR) becoming one. The all-round agency capabilities developed by Bulls Eye and BE DDB have put us in a unique position to drive the future. As a look ahead to the next 23 years, what keeps me going is the fact that I love to create the future of my clients and their brands, one brief at a time.
Shoaib Qureshy is CEO, Bulls Eye DDB.