In the spring of 2011 I received a phone call from Khalid Alvi – a seasoned marketer and well-known personality in marketing circles in Pakistan. He sounded enthusiastic and introspective at the same time. I headed Headlion at that time and got excited thinking there may be new business coming our way. There wasn’t, it was something better. Khalid was eager to get to the point. After the predictable pleasantries, he jumped to his unhidden agenda. He wanted to improve marketing standards in Pakistan through an innovative and exciting approach; an education platform, particularly aimed at young people that would drive change by teaching new concepts from around the world and introduce new ones.
Khalid had me when he used “Marketing, Youth and Pakistan” in the same sentence (well actually two). Headlion at that time was steaming ahead with the flag of an ‘Improve Marketing’ movement fluttering at the forefront. It initiated (and associated with) a lot of similar activities including Café Headlion – the first marketing themed restaurant in the world, Headlion Library, which offered free marketing-related books to anyone interested, and we regularly hosted marketing themed events and debates, pushing the marketing fraternity to raise the bar. We were trying to start a movement that would put us at par with global marketing standards. Here, I would like to acknowledge the Marketing 360 fraternity who supported us unwaveringly and, of course, Aurora.
Having limited resources and almost zero networking, I jumped at the chance, knowing fully well that by teaming up with Khalid, the scale and scope of our efforts would amplify tenfold. By the time the phone call ended I knew that this was not only going to be memorable with Khalid Alvi on board...it was going to be monumental.
The key to any venture is having a great team and we brought four more people on board. The founding members included Shoaib Shamsi, a seasoned marketer and education expert, Farheen Zehra, a branding expert (who left after a month), Sarah Dawood and Nazia Ahmed, both packed with passion and experience and representing the marketing and the advertising industry. Not to be taken for granted, the entire team of Headlion who worked diligently on the project for years without any incentive.
Our first meeting held at Headlion started with chaat and chai and ended with the name ‘Khalid Alvi Marketing Next (KAMN)’ decided upon. We did this because the idea came from Khalid Alvi and he had more branding experience than all of us combined. We started with an ambitious plan to create modules on marketing topics that were innovative, relevant and not in the traditional syllabus. The plan was to record these modules live with students at leading colleges. The first one called Country Branding was held at IBA and later at SZABIST and CBM.
I have always been a proponent of social media and advocated its efficacy during its infancy. I remember many people made fun of me for wasting too much time on social media (the majority were from the marketing community). For most of them, social media was a passing phase that college kids were going through and at my ‘age’ people expected me to spend more time being ‘productive’. Almost any digital plan I presented to clients was rejected or considered only if it was ‘free’ and would not take our time away from working on traditional campaigns. Imagine where we are today with the digital ad spends now crossing 50% of the total ad spend globally. I want to plug-in: “I told you so” here and add that branding is as much about foresight as it is about insight.
Parallel with the work on the modules, I started the KAMN Facebook group with the aim of bringing together eager students and experienced marketers on a single forum. Who knew this side dish would become the main course in the future. Marketers are narcissistic by nature and it is rare to find a marketer defending another marketer’s work, let alone praising it. This group would give them space and encouragement to do so. The idea behind it was to let novices dissect a campaign and the experts would then judge the campaign as well as the comments. Was the criticism fair? Was the campaign bad? How to judge a marketing campaign? These were some of the questions we wanted to be answered on the group.
Khalid Alvi moved abroad and the education and module phase was put on hold. As the Facebook group started to grow, we added more administrators to inject more momentum and to keep the dream alive. To help us run the community, I requested Amir Haleem, Danish Ejaz, and Tyrone Tellis (advertising professionals with years of experience behind them) to join the movement and spice things up.
From day one, KAMN generated controversy and we welcomed it. It was a group that critiqued the work of people who had never faced any kind of critique publicly. The advertising and marketing communities, especially in Pakistan, are entwined and thrive on a “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” modus operandi. If an agency is deemed incompetent, the marketing department comes under fire; therefore both protect each other and present a rosy picture to the top brass. KAMN broke that barrier and started to rock the boat with a "no holds barred" approach and the opinions were raw and ruthless. Naturally, in a year’s time, KAMN became the most controversial group in Pakistan. The only difference was that it was not sharing political scandals or posting lewd videos. It was (and still is) sharing unfiltered opinions about marketing campaigns. Eight years later and 30,000 members on board, KAMN remains the most controversial and possibly the most hated group among marketing circles in Pakistan. We have been threatened, blackmailed, and badmouthed but we have not wavered. And on this eighth anniversary, I thought it a great opportunity to share some history, clear some misconceptions and answer the top five allegations against us.
1. All KAMN does is criticise
True but not entirely. Great work never goes unappreciated on KAMN. The dilemma is that almost 90% of the campaigns are mediocre. The lack of thought has always been coated by flamboyant production values, Bangkok shoots, foreign DOPs and European food shots. While this formula usually works to convince the CEO that this is the most innovative campaign ever, the public does not buy it (pun intended). Since the work is mostly average, criticism is rampant and hence gives the impression that this is all we do. However, there have been campaigns (albeit a few) that have been universally acknowledged. To give a few examples, the Nawazuddin Kenwood ad and Kingtox's Dimagh Ka Kera ad garnered over 200 comments appreciating the ads, over 1,000 likes and over 200 shares. So if you want KAMN to critique less, make better ads. Also, keep in mind that this was the premise KAMN was built on.
2. The opinions from novices don’t matter; what do they know about marketing?
We are talking about 30,000 people whose opinion is worth 3,000 focus groups, if not more. They are your consumers and they are men and women from all walks of life from across Pakistan. Their opinions matter more than anyone else’s. Embrace it. We have had few marketers who have had the courage to defend or explain the thinking behind their campaigns. Qashif Effendi, CEO Reem Rice, and one of the most well-known marketers, is one such person to have recently jumped in the conversation. He took ownership, explained his point of view and took the feedback as constructive.
3. There is no learning or meaningful discussions
Yes, there is. If you scroll through the posts, we ensure that the flow of international best practices, new campaigns and new techniques and technology are shared consistently. They garner less engagement, so they drown within the posts that generate more engagement. We have held numerous events inviting leading marketers from around Pakistan and a few international ones. Our In the Line of Fire series lets the audience question the marketer directly, which is rare, especially in Pakistan. Our live videos are a similar effort in the same direction. As for meaningful discussions, the exchanges are closely monitored. We delete personal remark or inappropriate words or comments within one hour. You can improve the substance by jumping in or by starting a new thread.
4. KAMN does not like criticism
That is an understatement. We hate it. If you tell us you hate us, we will show you the door. Our stance is that this is your group and if you feel there is something wrong, change it. If you feel there is too much criticism, start appreciating. If you feel the posts are trivial, post something meaningful. Despite the fact that we have 30,000 members, 100 membership requests a day and 50 posts every day, which require us to moderate members who tend to fight and scream, we do not receive acknowledgment of any kind; therefore, it has become increasingly difficult to take criticism. So the motto I share with the other administrators is, if you don’t like the heat, get out of the kitchen.
5. KAMN wants to monetise
Absolutely. The only issue is that the people who have the power to pay are the ones who hate us. KAMN is like the Wild West, once a post lands we have no control, so no one wants to pay. We never compromise our principles so you hardly see any events advertised on KAMN. Those that you see advertised are the ones where we ask for one thing: give us something for our members, like a discount for an event (no one pays us to advertise their events). We have never sold our opinions. For the longest time, we did not allow people/brands to post their work directly; members could post to start a discussion, to ensure that people could not promote themselves. Now, we are allowing people/brands to post content related to their work but for a fee. The age-old motto that if you do good work the money will follow has not worked out yet, although we hope someday it will. I think our biggest achievement was when someone from a production house told me a story. The short version is that a client brought a storyboard and a discussion ensued; a comment was made to the effect that “This is too ordinary; it will be bashed on KAMN.” The client said they would rework the concept. You are welcome. We know that most of the marketing fraternity has nothing nice to say about KAMN, yet they eagerly await to find out what the verdict is – and that is rewarding. We know that if no one hates you, you are probably doing something wrong or doing nothing at all.