Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

From tea peddlers to digital engagers

Published in Nov-Dec 2017

The evolution of media advertising platforms in Pakistan.

A professor I knew at a business school said: “If you want to learn about marketing, look at how the British made tea the most popular drink in South Asia.”

I agree with him. Marketing tea in British India was probably the most successful marketing activity the subcontinent has seen to date, although I am sure it was not the typical ATL activity we are familiar with today. It was more a trade marketing activity, which activated all five senses (taste, smell, hearing, sight and touch).

Tea did not become popular thanks to the magic of copywriters or creative directors. Its popularity grew through peddlers who were willing to scour through neighbourhoods and engage people in conversation before touting the benefits of their product. This basic process of selling has not changed; you engage your prospect, figure out what the customer might be interested in and then try to sell it at a mutually-acceptable price.

Our tea peddlers knew a trick or two and leveraged the power of the senses to drive a sale. After all, it is much more difficult to turn down a sale or negotiate a lower price after sipping an aromatic cup of tea. So, they captivated their audiences via the aroma, taste and colour of their product, and told stories about the functional benefit of ‘rejuvenation’ along with the higher order benefit of ‘rising up the corporate ladder of the East India Company’ (which I’m sure would have helped too). The hawkers were not trained on the brand ladder as are the brand ambassadors of today, yet these ‘distributors’ were very good, as they not only marketed brands, but also changed the behaviour of the consumers. They deserve more credit than their counterparts in China, who were busy selling opium. I’m sure they too were complaining to their bosses that tea is not as addictive as opium!

1947 and the rise of Radio Pakistan

Zoom out from the 1800s to the eve of Independence. At midnight on August 14, 1947, Mustafa Ali Hamdani, a handsome radio host, proclaimed the nation’s independence on radio. With this news dawned a new era for advertisers – in a country where literacy was low, radio allowed maximum reach compared to print. Radio was also faster in reaching people than the archaic ‘peddler brand ambassadors’, but it only stimulated one of the five senses – hearing. Radio advertising focused on communicating through words and music, and people skilled in writing good poetry or composing great music were in demand. This is the reason why, even today, we can enjoy TV ads with our eyes closed.

Bedazzled by the TV screen

Within two decades of Independence, Pakistan’s first military regime introduced TV. This empowered advertisers by adding visual sensuality to their communications. But the skill sets that the ‘Mad Men’ of Pakistan had, were outdated. They had no idea how to communicate via the small screen in 30-seconds – creatives still assumed that poetry and music was the route to success. This is why the ads you will remember from the 80s (if you are old enough to remember or young enough to Google) are the ones with jingles in them. From Philips light bulb to Cherry Blossom and Binaca to State Life, all these commercials depended heavily on good music and clever poetry or copy.

Sometimes advertisers were not even concerned if the average consumer understood what was being communicated. The popular Peek Freans’ Pied Piper ad came with English lyrics – as if everyone in General Zia’s time was studying under the Cambridge school system of the 2000s. The Don Carlos commercial seemed more like a predecessor to a Game of Thrones sequel in a language spoken on Mars. Yet, despite all this, the ads were phenomenal in their power to grab the audience’s attention.

The 90s, the noughties and the audience of the future

While the 90s did not see significant advancements in technology, advertisers learnt that using celebrities can aid persuasion and so heralded an era with a plethora of celebrities. If Imran Khan and Javed Miandad were at the end of their careers (at least in cricket), then stars like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Inzamam-ul-Haq were reaching their peak. And the bowlers were good-looking and presentable too.

TV channels proliferated under the military regime of the new Millennium, and for the first time, creatives were challenged on their ability to break the clutter. They also faced a new challenge; audiences were no longer captive; they had a device that enabled them to change channels from a distance. The remote control kept Pakistani viewers engaged with the television but not with the ad. (As a side note, this also meant emancipation of children and housewives from the ‘man of the house’, who all of a sudden, would request a glass of water or a cup of tea during the commercial break in the 80s.)

Most advertising today is one dimensional – appealing only to our sense of sight, or at most two-dimensional, when you add sound. While radio and TV are superior to the tea peddlers and hawkers selling gol gappay because of their reach, consumers are still not engaged on all five senses.

Another challenge creatives faced was comparison with their counterparts in India – Pakistani ads were not as engaging or persuasive as the Indian ones. Pakistan’s creative school was an evolution of the era of radio; they were masters of Urdu poetry and lyrics and knew that ears can be tools of the advertising trade. They had no idea how to engage the eye. In addition, the education system of the 90s produced ‘burgers’ or ‘brown men more white than the white man’. Creatives and their clients (the marketers) had no idea how the public felt, thought, talked or lived. There was a disconnect with the consumer.

With the boom in the mobile telecommunications industry, ads started telling slice-of-life stories – from a grand mehndi dance hall to a scene from a disco party at a lavish house in one of Pakistan’s elitist cantonments. This phase was brought to an end by the Ufone ads produced by comedian band Dr Aur Billa (Faisal Qureshi). The ads were an instant success with young people, but these ‘most-talked-about’ commercials were not a product of the ingenuity of typical copywriters, creatives or directors from the advertising industry. This was a reality check for advertising agencies.

There was, however, a respite. While Ufone produced ads that were humorous, they were not driving sales. We know that humour can make ads more enjoyable, engaging and memorable, but, if the humour distracts from branding and communication, it can impede effectiveness and be less persuasive.

The five senses, digital and your brand

The digital revolution continues to gain momentum, and while penetration in Pakistan is under 30%, an estimated 24 million users are actively using the internet (source: I-Cube study by Kantar MRB). Of these, 86% tell us that Facebook is their most accessed website. Insights from our qualitative research reveal that fear of missing out (FOMO) is a reality and more and more consumers say they don’t want to miss out on what their friends and families are doing. Brands need to optimise this opportunity – one of the biggest advantages digital provides is to avoid one-sided boring communication, and as the consumer becomes more connected, brands need to join the conversation.

Cross-media studies carried out by Kantar Millward Brown, both globally and in Pakistan, tell us that TV is a channel where advertisers are overspending. I agree intuitively. Insights from our qualitative practice, Firefly, reveal that Millennials are on the internet and as advertisers, we should encourage them to build conversations around our brands.

Martin Lindstrom’s book Brand Sense: Sensory Secrets Behind the Stuff We Buy states that marketers should appeal to all five senses. He says media that appeals to more than three senses can increase brand impact and engagement by over 70%. Yet, most advertising today is one-dimensional – appealing only to our sense of sight, or at most two-dimensional, when you add sound. While radio and TV are superior to the tea peddlers and hawkers selling gol gappay because of their reach, consumers are still not engaged on all five senses. Advertisers and creatives are not experimenting with taste, smell and touch.

I believe we are at a technological watershed where advertisers can fully use Martin Lindstrom’s advice that marketers should appeal to all five senses and that creative trade marketing activities are one of the best places to apply this advice. If done correctly, marketers can engage consumers via all five senses, and according to Kantar, one should never underestimate the power of point-of-sale advertising to grow imagery related to a brand. Interaction is important to a sale, but interaction is not only verbal or visual. To be truly effective, it needs to engage all the senses.

With Augmented Reality (AR), we have the power to tinker with the other three senses. Coca-Cola has created a billboard where people use their smartphones to sip the beverage. True, they are not actually tasting the drink, but being able to use their phone to imitate drinking a glass of Coke is a stimulus that makes people want to rush to the nearest store and buy a Coke. Who knows, one day technology might allow free sampling of products via teleportation!

How well are we geared up for this change? Do we have talent in the industry? Do we have schools that can produce marketers, creatives and advertisers who can innovate? Are we teaching students how to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) and AR for practical purposes? We live in a different world from the one for which traditional advertising was invented. Back then, we had three major communication channels: radio, TV and print. Today, we can’t even keep count – channels are exploding faster than we can keep track. This has created the age of the interactive consumer. Traditionally, brands were owned by the companies that invented them, but in the future, brands will increasingly be owned by the consumer, and according to Lindstrom, the only way to bind that consumer to a brand will be to inspire an emotional commitment – and the only way to do that will be by creating a sensory branding experience.

Will we remain stuck in our radio days, the days when lyrics and music could convince you that smoking is good for your image? Let’s see how quickly we can adapt to changes that the digital world brings to us. Tech allows us to play with the five senses and empower our advertising – why aren’t we using it to the fullest advantage? We also need to rethink our marketing plans, because if we are not getting digital right, we are not getting marketing right.

Noaman Asar is MD, Kantar Pakistan.