Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The Dawn brand: preserving tradition, spearheading change

Updated May 04, 2018 10:18am
How Dawn’s communication strategies have kept up with the times.
Ali Habib, Head of Corporate Affairs &amp; Marketing at UBL, assesses the response to his bank’s <em>Rahbar-e-Taraqqi-o-Kamal</em> print campaign, with his team. UBL’s print ads were published in Dawn to coincide with the 37 days between May and August 2017 when the newspaper’s campaign, <em>The Dawn of Pakistan 1906-1948</em>, appeared. UBL’s ads carried as baseline “UBL celebrates Pakistan’s 70th year of Independence with Dawn” and showcased individuals, landmarks and icons that are intrinsically Pakistani. (photo: Arif Mahmood/ Dawn White Star)
Ali Habib, Head of Corporate Affairs & Marketing at UBL, assesses the response to his bank’s Rahbar-e-Taraqqi-o-Kamal print campaign, with his team. UBL’s print ads were published in Dawn to coincide with the 37 days between May and August 2017 when the newspaper’s campaign, The Dawn of Pakistan 1906-1948, appeared. UBL’s ads carried as baseline “UBL celebrates Pakistan’s 70th year of Independence with Dawn” and showcased individuals, landmarks and icons that are intrinsically Pakistani. (photo: Arif Mahmood/ Dawn White Star)

Ask any marketer what is the secret behind creating a successful brand and one word that will come up is consistency. In this regard, Dawn, the brand, has remained consistent in the positioning the paper deploys in its advertising communications, be they corporate or product campaigns.

The link with Mr Jinnah

Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah founded Dawn in Karachi on August 14, 1947 (he also founded Dawn Delhi on October 19, 1941, but it ceased publication after its offices were burnt down by Jan Sang demonstrators on September 14, 1947). Mr Jinnah stood for principle and integrity and these are the two values Dawn holds to, in both its editorial and advertising expression.

The link with Mr Jinnah is not simply that he founded Dawn, it is reinforced by the fact that he agreed to be photographed reading Dawn on his 71st birthday – and there can be no more a dramatic brand endorsement than this. As a result, a significant number of Dawn’s corporate communications campaigns centre on Mr Jinnah’s words; the objective, apart from reinforcing his association with the newspaper, is to further his vision of Pakistan.


What has characterised Dawn’s campaigns is that they are extensively researched and thereby stay true to the newspaper’s mission to report authenticated and credible information.


For example, Dawn’s 60th birthday campaign consisted of advertisements that included Mr Jinnah’s words on the importance of young people as nation builders and the treatment of women. The centrepiece of this campaign was an inspirational comic strip that focused on an incident taken from Mr Jinnah’s childhood, which won praise by Stanley Wolpert (the distinguished historian and author of Jinnah of Pakistan), the Press Trust of India, as well as online forums such as Pakistaniat.com.

In 2011, the Jinnah Campaign highlighted Mr Jinnah’s views on women (the campaign kicked off on 100th International Women’s Day), minorities, the duties of a democratic government and the importance of education. The campaign’s theme was: ‘Mr Jinnah’s bequest is Pakistan’s leading media conglomerate – The Dawn Media Group’. The campaign won the Pakistan Advertisers Society (PAS) Award in the Best In Media category in 2012.

The most recent campaign to centre on Mr Jinnah was The Dawn of Pakistan 1906-1948. The objective of this 37-episode photo feature (which featured in Dawn, DawnNews and Dawn.com) was to engage a new generation of readers by bringing to life and documenting the story of the subcontinent’s freedom movement through the full-page display of rare, iconic and sometimes never seen before photographs.

The last episode’s photograph was of Mr Jinnah reading Dawn on his 71st birthday; the detailed caption below it included the lines: “Never in his career has Mr Jinnah ever endorsed what today we would consider to be a ‘product’ or ‘brand’. And yet, at the behest of his colleagues, he picks up the copy of Dawn at his side and agrees to be photographed reading it...”

A focus on Pakistan’s heritage

Another factor distinguishing Dawn’s communications is the emphasis on Pakistan’s heritage. Nowhere is this more apparent than the launch campaigns for the Lahore and Islamabad editions of Dawn in 1996 and 2001 respectively. The Lahore campaigns had a distinct Lahore/Mughal flavour and centred on the city’s prominent Mughal and colonial buildings (in the form of historic prints from the F.S. Aijazuddin Collection, as well as contemporary photographs by Arif Mahmood). The Islamabad campaign highlights the fact that Dawn is once again published from Pakistan’s capital city, as envisioned by Mr Jinnah (this had changed after the capital had been transferred from Karachi to Islamabad in the sixties). The campaign featured photographs taken by Tapu Javeri of historic landmarks in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Taxila and Murree. Here again, everything is documented in terms of the historical context of the images and then linked to Dawn.

For example, an advertisement for the Islamabad campaign had for headline ‘Dawn means contemplating the finer things in life’ and focused on the Cecil Hotel, with details about this historic Murree landmark: “Built in 1855 as a 12-room residence for British soldiers, the house was converted into a hotel in 1910 by a British national known simply as Mr Cecil.” Both the Lahore and Islamabad campaigns included television commercials. The Lahore campaign won the International Newsmedia Marketing Association (INMA) First Place Award for Television Promotion, an award recognised as the highest distinction in newspaper marketing. The commercial was the result of a stellar team put together by Dawn and which included Imran Mir, Zohra Yusuf and Arshad Mahmud.

Ultimately, what has characterised Dawn’s campaigns is that they are extensively researched and thereby stay true to the newspaper’s mission to report authenticated and credible information. This does not mean that Dawn’s advertising is in any way staid; on the contrary, they have their own subtleties. Take the finale of the Lahore campaign – Fragments from a Vanishing Millennium.

The campaign was based on the portraits of seven characters associated with Lahore that were especially commissioned to young artists from the National College of Arts in Lahore. The characters were Qutbuddin Aibak, Anarkali, Nur Jehan, Jehangir, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Rudyard Kipling and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. All are portrayed either reading or holding Dawn.

The storytelling was about how each character was faced by a problem and was searching for a way (medium) to solve it; the subtlety lay in the fact that Dawn was never mentioned as the solution – each character reaching out to the ‘medium’ that gave them the most satisfaction (for example Aibak goes off to ride his polo ponies, while Anarkali picks up her paint brush).The choice of the miniature style was also very Dawn. Miniature paintings in their heydays were considered a form of communication (as is all art); it is also a vanishing one, which Dawn pays tribute to.

Innovation to create an affinity with the young

Da​wn Spelling Bee: 'A Super-Charged Spelling Adventure!' - Winner of the WAN-IFRA Bronze Award in the Best in Newspaper Marketing Category (2016)
Da​wn Spelling Bee: 'A Super-Charged Spelling Adventure!' - Winner of the WAN-IFRA Bronze Award in the Best in Newspaper Marketing Category (2016)

In 1998, Dawn launched the Dawn in Education Programme (the only in-paper education programme in Pakistan) to address younger audiences. An offshoot of the programme is the Dawn Spelling Bee, a hugely successful initiative, now in its 14th edition and cited by INMA as being among “the industry’s best recent ideas for increasing youth newspaper readership” in 2005.

Each edition of the Spelling Bee is promoted in Dawn. The 2014 campaign positioned the Spelling Bee as a video game (a spelling saga of bee-licious proportions) and campaigns over the last three years have centred on a cast of characters which make up ‘The league of extraordinary spellers’ – a super-hero team, dedicated to improving spelling among schoolchildren while battling villains who are trying to disrupt the effort.

The 2015 print campaign won the PAS Award in the Best in Media category, and in 2016, the WAN-IFRA (World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers) Bronze Award in the Newspaper Marketing category.

The Spelling Bee is now a calendar event among leading schools in Pakistan; every year, the event attracts participation from over 1,000 schools and 8,000 pupils. Following on this success, last year, Dawn partnered with EdEqual to establish the Math Challenge, an inter-school competition slated to become an annual event like the Spelling Bee.

In 2013, Dawn introduced a redesign of its masthead and pages. On Mr Jinnah’s birthday (December 25), the newspaper published a full-page advertisement which charted the evolution of the paper’s brand identity. The visuals accompanying the text, in addition to Mr Jinnah’s photograph reading Dawn, were the newspaper’s mastheads which since 1947, changed in 1948, 1955, 1966, 1982 and 2013.

Dawn: Preserving Heritage, Spearheading Change - Winner of the PAS Award in the Best in Media Category (2014)
Dawn: Preserving Heritage, Spearheading Change - Winner of the PAS Award in the Best in Media Category (2014)

The text stated: “As we move to embrace younger audiences through a powerful new communication matrix, we do so within a cogent spirit of preserving our traditions and yet spearheading change. The kind of change fuelled by Mr Jinnah’s vision for a better, brighter Pakistan – the dawn that our masthead so proudly heralds.” The advertisement which ran with the headline Preserving Tradition, Spearheading Change, won the Best in Media PAS Award in 2014. The headline perhaps best expresses Dawn’s vision.

Design excellence

One of the key aspects of building a successful brand is design and to this end, Dawn has been ably supported by Creative Unit, a Karachi-based design agency led by Tannaz Minwalla and Mannan Hatim Ali. Creative Unit have been responsible for most of Dawn’s advertising communications since the nineties and have therefore been an integral part of the newspaper’s brand journey; many of the advertising communications that they have designed for Dawn have won national and international awards. In addition to Dawn’s advertising communications, Creative Unit have been extensively involved in designing the The Dawn Media Group’s publications, including Dawn, Aurora and Herald, each of which have a distinct identity.

DawnRelief: 'These Canvas Walls Shall Not Be My Prison' - Winner of the INMA Award in ​the ​Community Service Category (2006)
DawnRelief: 'These Canvas Walls Shall Not Be My Prison' - Winner of the INMA Award in ​the ​Community Service Category (2006)

Brand recognition

The Dawn Media Group and Creative Unit have won several international and national awards for their advertising communication, including four International Newsmedia Marketing Association (INMA) Awards (considered to be the highest honour in the newspaper profession). These included four first place awards in the circulation promotion, TV promotion, printed materials advertising and community service categories for the Herald (1986), Dawn Lahore (1988), Dawn-the internet edition (1999) and Dawn Relief (2006) respectively.

The Dawn Media Group and Creative Unit have won three Pakistan Advertisers’ Society (PAS) Awards in the Best in Media category in 2012, 2014 and 2015 and a Bronze WAN-IFRA (World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers) Award in the Best in Newspaper Marketing category in 2016 for the Dawn Spelling Bee.

Mamun M. Adil is a leading advertising and communications expert at Aurora. mamun.adil@gmail.com

First published in THE DAWN OF ADVERTISING IN PAKISTAN (1947-2017), a Special Report published by DAWN on March 31, 2018.