Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Sep-Oct 2018

An eye for beauty

Humayun Farooq, Marketing Director Health, RB Pakistan, in profile.

Humayun Farooq is quite unlike the multitude of marketing professionals that I have interviewed over the years in more ways than one. For one, he is loquacious and does not use words like ‘affinity’ and ‘persona’ when describing his brands. For another, he does not resort to the tried and tested and seemingly rehearsed responses that characterise many professionals working in multinational companies. Instead, he is spontaneous and doesn’t appear to take himself too seriously.

What he does take seriously, though, is his career. He recently assumed the position of Marketing Director Health, Reckitt Benckiser (RB), Pakistan, no mean feat given that he is relatively young (he is in his late thirties). Refreshingly, although his love for the brands he has worked on (and there are many) is apparent, he doesn’t come across as overly earnest when he describes his work and achievements, but simply as someone who loves what he does.

Born into a family of doctors and engineers, Farooq decided at a young age that he did not want to meander down those well-trodden paths. He wanted to do something ‘creative’.

“I used to write prose and I was good at compositions... I used to sketch and paint and realised I needed to do something creative. At the time, marketing was the most creative option for me.”

While pursuing an MBA at IBA, Farooq joined Colgate Palmolive as a management trainee and initially worked on Bonus detergent. He then moved on to brands such as Colgate and Sparkle. After a few years, he joined CandyLand (Ismail Industries), a stint that lasted for about three years.

Of his time at CandyLand, Farooq was involved in several spheres of marketing, in addition to working closely with the company’s advertising agency on designing packaging labels for brands such as Bisconni, Chili Mili and Cocomo, which he “loved doing.” He also remembers travelling to India (not as common as it is today) to shoot commercials.

Although he describes the earlier years of his career with zest, it was after joining RB that the pace accelerated, especially when he started to work on Veet, a brand that is close to his heart.

In his first days there, he attended a series of focus groups and they opened his eyes when it came to understanding women as consumers. He discovered that Pakistani women were not as conservative as one would think; they liked wearing sleeveless clothes and watching Indian dramas, although they were not necessarily things they would admit to their husbands or the other men in their family.

At the time, Katrina Kaif was the brand ambassador for Veet and these findings led Farooq to launch ads that were less “neutered and muted” and much “bolder.”

Farooq also learnt during the course of these focus groups that women (irrespective of their age) “want to be beautiful and they believe that these products make a real difference in their lives.” This prompted him to market Veet as a product that promoted beauty, unlike its competitors, Anne French and Eu Cream, which focused on the functional aspects of depilation.

“Anne French and Eu Cream were marketing depilation; I didn’t want to do that. I realised that we should do something different and non-functional, so we started to talk about an emotional need – the need to be beautiful.”


In his quest to do something different, Farooq went a step further from just ‘bolder’ advertising; he came up with a platform called Veet Celebration of Beauty (VCB), which was a fashion show of sorts in 2009 – a time when such events were not as frequent as they are now. (Miss Veet Pakistan and the Veet Academy are both offshoots of this initiative.)


In his quest to do something different, Farooq went a step further from just ‘bolder’ advertising; he came up with a platform called Veet Celebration of Beauty (VCB), which was a fashion show of sorts in 2009 – a time when such events were not as frequent as they are now. (Miss Veet Pakistan and the Veet Academy are both offshoots of this initiative.)

The fashion show, which eventually became a regular event, was attended by a select group of women, primarily socialites and members of the press, and was filmed “like a television show.” The footage was aired on several channels, and in the process, launched the careers of designers such as Zaheer Abbas, Ayesha Farooq Hashwani and Zara Shahjahan, whose clothes were showcased at the event.

Farooq refers to VCB as his “launching pad” because after seeing this success, he was approached by Unilever to join them, which he did. There, he worked on several personal care brands, including Fair & Lovely, Pond’s and Vaseline and was able to work on or launch several initiatives that he is proud of. These include Pond’s Miracle Journey and the Fair & Lovely Academy. For the latter, he worked with Masarrat Mishbah (whom he admires), as it gave women a platform to learn how to run their own salons and acquire a certification from Depilex.

Explaining the reasons behind these initiatives, Farooq says that “with beauty brands, it is very easy to fall into a ‘superficial trap’. A lot of people can tell you that this brand has no soul. I believe that the brands that I have worked on come from good places, but you have to come up with a new ‘leg’ of interaction with consumers to connect with them.”

As proof of this way of thinking, he points out that “once a woman is connected with Veet Academy, she will never leave it, even if she has other options, because she will say that Veet taught her to be confident and charming.”

Following his stint at Unilever, Farooq spent time at British American Tobacco Middle East, where he worked on various brands, including Dunhill and Pall Mall. He was based in the Middle East, but had to return to Pakistan for personal reasons after a few years and then joined Shan Foods as a consultant, and ended up working for what he says was a “once in a lifetime ad”; the one termed the “Shan CPEC Commercial.”


Beauty and glamour are important to Farooq and he has an eye for aesthetics. So when he says he has recently taken to curating an Instagram account dedicated to food (another one of his passions), I comment that “I am sure the pictures are very pretty,” without seeing them.


Farooq says that the idea behind the ad was to position Shan’s biryani mix as a product that was so easy to use that even a foreigner could use it. He is candid enough to say that the idea was not his, but that of the Head of Marketing at Shan Foods, who had left the company before he joined.

“The management wasn’t sold on the idea, but I managed to sell it,” he says, betraying his powers of persuasion. Initially, the idea was to show a gora in the ad, but he thought a Chinese woman would be more realistic, as he had seen a lot of Chinese people in Pakistan.

The conundrum he faced was “how will we make Chinese people beautiful? You have to understand that as Pakistanis, we have a specific lens for beauty; women should look a certain way and only then will it work. They have to be fair, with long hair and large eyes; the agency (Ogilvy India) presented us with some good talent options,” he recalls, adding that he worked on making the ad “more beautiful, classier and more upscale.”

Beauty and glamour are important to Farooq and he has an eye for aesthetics. So when he says he has recently taken to curating an Instagram account dedicated to food (another one of his passions), I comment that “I am sure the pictures are very pretty,” without seeing them. He laughs modestly in response and admits that aesthetics are important to him. Maybe as a result, Farooq’s other interests include fitness; he is at the gym after waking up every morning at Fajr and he goes to bed early; he doesn’t say so, but I wonder whether it is partly to ensure his ‘beauty’ sleep.

Farooq returned to RB earlier this year, describing the company as the “only place in Pakistan where you can do your ‘firsts’; where people will let you take risks if you are confident.”

Veet is among the many brands in his portfolio and he says that he plans to “expand it.” Given what I know so far about him, this will probably be done with plenty of glamour. And of course – beauty.