Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Why Are We Failing Our Brands?

Published in Sep-Oct 2020

Sheikh Adil Hussain delivers a clear call. The industry must assume collective responsibility to address a collective failure.

Apple, Ariel, Axe, B&H, Cadbury, Close-Up, Coca-Cola, Colgate, Dettol, Dove, Garnier, Google, Harpic, Head & Shoulders, JPGL, Kellogg’s, Kit Kat, Knorr, Lipton, Lux, Maggi, Marlboro, Mortein Nike, Pampers, Pantene, Pepsi, Ponds, Sunsilk, Supreme, Surf, Tang, Telenor and Tuc.

Bold, Bonus, Brite, Butterfly, Canbebe, Candyland, Cola Next, Express, Faiza Beauty Cream, Fauji, Haleeb, Jubilee, K2, Kala Kola, Kingtox, Meezan, Mortein, Morven Gold, National Foods, Olpers, Pearl, Prince, Rooh Afza, Tapal, Tibet, Shan, Shoop, Sonnet, Sooper, Sufi, Vital and Ufone.

Go through these two lists and see whether you can put your hand on your heart and say which brands inspire and which just sell. Why is it that most local brands don’t come across as warm and fuzzy? This, despite the existence of a plethora of research around consumer psychology, human behaviour and neuro-marketing, lead to the same conclusion that brands that create, establish and strengthen emotional bonds with their consumers last and those that do not, wither away. The answer is simple. Local brands are not investing in brand building the way they should simply due to a lack of foresight or vision. Really, you ask?

Then what about: Brylcreem, Dalda, Dentonic, Energile, Glaxose-D, Master Moltyfoam, Macleans, Medicam, Naurus, Olivia, Rafhan, Samsol, Selsun and State Life, (some of them are not strictly local)? Read aloud the names of each one and if there is any one among you that does not break into the brand jingle or their sign off, then you are too young.

Still not convinced? Then let’s assess how well the brands in the third list are doing. What is their market share? Some even don’t exist anymore. Yet, most of them had memorable jingles. Ae Khuda Meray Abbu Salamat Rahein (State Life), Bhool Na Jana Phir Papa (Naurus), or they had great sign-offs like Meri Nanni Kali Naye Ghar Ko Chali (Master MoltyFoam), It’s Only Because Of You... Selsun Blue. Or one memorable ad like Dentonic’s animated ad or English Toothpaste’s Bara Nahi Sirf Dus Rupay for sheer repetitiveness. Yet, none grew thereon. Nothing after that. Zip.

Hence our topic. Before we get into the how, there needs to be a collective admission of guilt. The companies and people responsible for building brands have not done their job. Brand custodians, creative and media agencies and production houses, all are equally to blame. There needs to be a moment of introspection followed by a collective sigh and acceptance.

The troika of brand custodians, creative/media agencies and production houses are responsible for churning out the communication around brands. So what are they doing wrong?

Short-termism. That what it is.

Brand managers have become ‘yes men’, who push to get any concept approved by the higher ups, so long as they can travel to shoots and rub shoulders with celebrities and directors. The fact that most marketers have the number of campaigns they have executed down on their CVs shows that this is what matters at both the hiring and interview ends. During my time at P&G, assistant and brand managers were discouraged to go to shoots and their work ended at the PPM stage. The creatives took over and bore the sole responsibility for how the TVC turned out. We have really veered far from that approach.

Creative agencies are not partners in brand building anymore. There was a time when client services could fill in for the brand manager and the creatives actually met and spoke with consumers before even thinking of penning down a concept. We have stopped putting in the hard yards. Media agencies have progressed in terms of applying proprietary tools or new technology to their planning, but have not raised the bar in terms of integrated planning with creative and digital. They too are straying into the realm of quantity by pitching irrelevant content and over leveraging high-rated shows.

I have worked in multiple markets and nowhere have I seen producers walk into the office of a client with a catalogue of concepts asking them to just ‘go for it’. It is not entirely their fault as many local brands do not have guidelines or strictly defined target audiences or communication spaces. This needs to change.

‘Briefcase producers’ was an intriguing term I heard at an industry event and I realised it was quite apt in describing what is going on. Many local brands are run by businessmen (affectionately known as seths) who do not have the vision to build brands, and instead opt for the easy way out by obliging a friend or a contact by ‘making a new TVC’.

Recently, there has been a spate of articles focusing on the pros and cons of short and long-term sales objectives. They conclude that brands that err on the side of investing in long-term brand building end up growing more than the ones that focus solely on short-term sales spurts.

Some local brands have given this approach a go (Prince, Sooper and Tarang) but they have not been consistent; branded songs, some content; that’s it. Dalda has survived the test of time with Jahan Maamta Wahan Dalda but what does that mean for consumers? What is Dalda doing to reinforce this concept? Recently they tried to take up the cause against body shaming, but the key will be consistency. Tapal Danedar are trying to combine frequency of consumption with a focus on role reversal. Either by design or by accident, I have never seen the wife/bahu cook in a Shan Foods ad; this shows they are trying to change stereotypes. Recently, Master MoltyFoam talked about the importance of a good night’s sleep in building immunity and general health. This is a great pivot toward an important message and brand building.

Another argument is that professionals in Pakistan are not capable. I disagree. There are plenty of multinationals in Pakistan training people in brand building. The same goes for internationally affiliated creative and media agencies, where people are exposed to international tools and frameworks. Not everyone gets into these multinationals, but most of them interact with local clients and most local companies hire senior people from multinationals. Therefore, it is everyone’s collective responsibility to build up each other’s capabilities and, thereby, the industry’s. If you are an international affiliate or a subsidiary of a multinational creative agency, it is your responsibility to teach your clients how to look at brand problems and how to apply global frameworks to local issues, and then come up with solutions in a structured manner, rather than gun slinging your way to the best idea. Otherwise we are at the mercy of luck and happenstance if we chance upon a creative who is in touch with the times and can come up with relevant insights. If you are an internationally affiliated media agency, it is your responsibility to bring that knowledge to the fore. Train brand managers on how to develop media plans, carry out executions and know the mediums that are relevant. Brand managers must sit with the creative agency in one room and build marketing and communication plans together. They need to be able to tap the expertise of their global network to tackle local brand problems. Media and creative agencies need to break moulds and expand the vision of local brands that have a big export presence in order to eventually help them become global brands. Brand managers need to learn how multinational brands are built. If you don’t know the process and how it is done, how will you implement it? Since not everyone is going to have a multinational experience, we need to promote employee exchange programmes.

Production houses must stop trying to sell TVCs to seths by just showing up at their doorstep with a “mind blowing idea made just for you” (which, if you don’t buy, you will see a month later executed by one of your competitors on TV). However, the most important ingredient is the will to challenge the status quo, not settling for less and going up against opposing opinions.

The perfect mix of brand, creative/digital/media agency and production, all with experience in brand building globally, is hard to find but if you have even one or two of these ingredients in any combination, the onus falls on you to uplift the others and improve the industry collectively, no matter what the obstacles.

Sheikh Adil Hussain is GM Marketing, Shan Foods.