Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Sep-Oct 2018

Hitting the beauty spot

Naya Pakistan is the buzzword of 2018, yet something has to be said for the purana Pakistan that thrives within.

Naya Pakistan is the buzzword of 2018, yet something has to be said for the purana Pakistan that thrives within local brands, specifically those that play the ruthless game called beauty and personal care. That turf is not unlike an arena where three types of gladiators fight it out for survival.

There is Multinational; a fair-skinned statuesque fighter, all muscle and clout, kitted in designer armoury. An array of ammunition at her disposal, she struts the field, giving out loud roars that snuff out the competition’s voice. As audiences take in her aura, few realise that her bulk and size prevent her from being the swiftest on the field when her two opponents (one of whom is a colourful character called Grey) take a quick jab. Grey (grey channel) is a hustler, loved by the crowd for flouting the rules of the game. Smaller in scale compared to her rivals, Grey is inconsistent but capable of damage when she decides to give the fight her all. The third player is Local.

On the slippery slope that is beauty and personal care, Local has fought the toughest battle, unlike her comrades on the turf of Food and Beverages, where being rooted to culture and uniquely desi is considered a plus.

When it comes to the promise of fair-skinned, flawless beauty, consumers have somehow been unable to shed their post colonial complexes, thereby making Local work extra hard in order to evolve. While there is no doubt that Local is caught between the gloss of Multinational’s offerings and the price cutting hustle of Grey, she has enjoyed a love-hate relationship with consumers on the proposition versus pricing parameter. In fact, Local has remained consistent in wooing consumers and has worked the most in terms of her evolution in the last 70 years. My experiences in brand communication for a multinational portfolio and as marketing head of a local personal care brand shattered many preconceived notions I had about this third gladiator when, in the battle for share, we had the opportunity to walk together through the bloodied aisles of image, pricing, merchandising and communication.

Local brands have two distinct identities. One is the archetype. This segment has been around for decades, has its share of loyalists and naysayers and enjoys extreme reactions from both. BioAmla, Kala Kola, Olivia, Swiss Miss and Tibet are just a few that fall into this category, but they are not the only ones to define it. For non-users, these brands carry the aura of ‘Urdu medium,’ ‘has been’ and ‘cheap’ and are dismissed as strugglers for survival. Yet, they appear oblivious to the mantras of ‘jo dikhta hai voh bikta hai’ their counterparts live by and we see them spend hundreds of thousands of rupees on merchandising and communication. What keeps them from succumbing to lure of re-launching with new propositions and formulations to stay top of mind? And has this status quo been to their detriment? Well, not really.


Local brands have two distinct identities. One is the archetype. This segment has been around for decades, has its share of loyalists and naysayers and enjoys extreme reactions from both. BioAmla, Kala Kola, Olivia, Swiss Miss and Tibet are just a few that fall into this category, but they are not the only ones to define it. For non-users, these brands carry the aura of ‘Urdu medium,’


As is evident from sales statistics derived from towns, cities, hamlets and villages, the archetype’s power lies not in change, but in ‘un-change’. Viva la status quo is the mantra that has kept the fragrance, pack design, usage technique and packaging formats frozen in time. Consumers love the familiarity and reward the un-change with their loyalty, regardless of what they are subjected to in terms of offering, pricing and availability.

Given that most archetypes are manufactured and marketed by family-owned businesses, it would be safe to assume that the new generation of marketers taking over the reins of an archetype business must be yearning to take these brands into contemporary lands. One has seen such attempts and one can only envision how painful it must have been for the people who took the decision to shake things up a bit and then realise that messing with un-change is not an option in this particular consumer-brand relationship.

A soap brand launched two different variants, presumably in the spirit of innovation and to increase share in urban hubs. One was a fruity range, riding on the fruit-inspired soaps that have flooded the market through the grey channel. The other was a deluxe range inspired by a premium multinational beauty soap brand, in terms of shape, pack design and offering. Both were launched under the archetype brand name with heavy marketing support. A few weeks later, market visits revealed the havoc caused by stocks piled high, while retailers shook their heads in derision as the archetypal offering maintained its share. This is not to say that the savvy urban consumer has no appetite for local brands; it is merely to recognise the existence of the unchanging archetype and its loyal base.

So how does one appeal to the tastes of the urban savvy consumer? What work has been done to draw into the fold young consumers who are enjoying brand experiences online, engage with slick brand presentations, abhor the label of desi and thus pledges allegiance to either the multinational or the grey channel option? For her, Local has come up with a perfect antithesis of the archetype. A hybrid that plays on cultural insights of personal care and global aesthetics of product mix to create the glocal entity. Here, Local uses ingredients that are culturally accepted as personal grooming ‘must haves’: turmeric, mustard oil, nigella seeds, gramflour extracts, citrus peel and goat milk and created face washes, soaps, shampoos, creams and lotions that shadow the works of global brands in aesthetics and appeal, with a pricing strategy closer to the affordable archetype. This formula has helped Local spread her wings and gain traction across the board.

Local brands are not necessarily cheaper than their multinational counterparts, putting to rest to the theory that only economy seeking consumers choose a local brand over an imported one. Nowhere is this more evident than in the increasingly popular skin whitening territory. Here too, a well-known multinational brand started the trend over two decades ago. In recent years, local offerings of skin whiteners (soaps, lotions, creams and face wash) not only provide options in terms of ingredients, pack format and pricing but more importantly, they managed to build equity and some are commanding a higher price than their imported counterparts. This indicates that consumers are willing to pay a premium for local brands, if the product delivers on performance.


When it comes to preferences between local and imported makeup, consumers have unabashedly supported imported brands. They cannot be blamed given the post colonial complexes which label local brands as unworthy of our class and lifestyle. It didn’t help that the likes of Swiss Miss and Medora only advertised in Urdu digests and magazines, reinforcing the image that these brands were the poor girl’s MAC.


Makeup is another turf where Local is winning small victories. When it comes to preferences between local and imported makeup, consumers have unabashedly supported imported brands. They cannot be blamed given the post colonial complexes which label local brands as unworthy of our class and lifestyle. It didn’t help that the likes of Swiss Miss and Medora only advertised in Urdu digests and magazines, reinforcing the image that these brands were the poor girl’s MAC, pushing their names further down the consideration set of a generation who grew up on familiar smuggled brands such as Thailand’s Karaja cosmetics range. It was then that Atiqa Odho took the bold step of launching her own makeup range and which despite her celebrity status did not do well. Consumer wariness about local quality was a barrier that could not be breached.

Tentative steps were taken in the fragrance market, where brands started talking about sourcing halal ingredients, a trend that had picked up in Muslim markets. Locally, Saeed Ghani has been thriving on heavy, Middle East inspired incense and fragrances bottled and sold at their select outlets.

J. expanded on the thought and took it national when the brand, basking in the reflection of its founder’s born again Muslim halo, started to gain traction on the fragrance front by offering locally-developed scents that were halal and in sync with global trends of light, fresh, summery scents. J. took off and soon other local textile houses hopped on board with a range of affordable perfumes. Consumers who could not afford expensive imported big brands and relied on the grey channel for their needs, now had an alternative available. While the product line remains a miniscule contributor to the overall revenue base, it did something crucial for Local – breaking another barrier with the urban savvy consumer.


Tentative steps were taken in the fragrance market, where brands started talking about sourcing halal ingredients, a trend that had picked up in Muslim markets. Locally, Saeed Ghani has been thriving on heavy, Middle East inspired incense and fragrances bottled and sold at their select outlets.


Cut to 2015 and two power houses of the local makeup segment – Nabila and Massarat Misbah – launched their own makeup brands. Albeit on a small scale, the stature that these personalities enjoy, coupled with sophisticated packaging and product quality, has enabled their brands to retail at a premium. This is where the trend is surprising; it shows that consumers are overlooking a brand’s origin and buying into the promise of a product made for their skin tone.

By embracing cultural roots while crossing global frontiers, local consumers have finally found what they want among local brands that, much like the country, continue to rise and reinvent themselves against all odds.


Farahnaz Haider Shaikh has worked in advertising and marketing for local and multinational companies and is currently CEO, Five Communications.