Published in Sep-Oct 2022
When was the last time a Pakistani brand changed or at least challenged the way consumers think, behave or buy? Have you ever thought about the difference it would make if some of the top brands decided to hold on to their advertising spending? Why does a top biscuit or tea brand need to advertise? Wouldn’t the distribution muscle, store visibility and push strategy be enough for sales and business growth? When was the last time a challenger brand toppled the market leader? Does advertising – the way we do it – make any difference?
I am not asking these questions because I have any doubts about the power of advertising. I am simply curious because I fail to gauge the effectiveness of the white noise most Pakistani brands are collectively creating across mediums. Are we even doing it right?
I can’t think of many brands – except for Shan, Lifebuoy Shampoo and Telenor – which in the last couple of years have actively tried to drive some sort of behaviour change through their advertising narrative. It is also a rarity to see local commercial work that has the potential to start conversations that could lead to change in consumer behaviour. Sadly, building brands, disrupting categories and driving the behavioural of the average Pakistani consumer is not on anyone’s agenda.
And this is not a mere observation or an assumption. The fact is that everyone is a brand builder and a storyteller, at least on LinkedIn. Yet, every category is supremely commoditised. For example, packaged milk brands have not been able to move the penetration needle beyond 10% in over three decades. The fact is that despite the media muscle, big-scale films and foreign shoots, the average Pakistani consumer still doesn’t trust any packaged milk brand. Tarang, one of the biggest ad spenders, could not survive one PR crisis. Talk about the strength of a brand that was making epics in the name of TVCs. All the turnaround champions and award-winning marketers could not rescue a giant like Tarang. It doesn’t end here.
More than 80% of the population is unbanked and less than five percent of Pakistanis are bothered about investing in life insurance. Can you imagine? Despite the scale of the advertising we have seen in the last many years across these categories, Pakistani consumers still don’t trust UHT milk, banks or insurance companies.
Whom should we hold accountable if Pakistani consumers in 2022 are still consuming contaminated khula doodh, putting their cash in takye ka ghilaaf and turning away insurance agents by saying “Kal ka sirf Allah ko pata hai”?
All the awards displayed in the agencies and client conference rooms are mere pieces of metal and all the jury sessions are nothing more than meet-and-greets, if we cannot genuinely self-reflect on and assess our effectiveness.
The truth is that cracks have already started to appear and the people who have been the beneficiaries of the prevailing mediocrity on both sides of the table are moving on to becoming production hustlers – and they still don’t understand that there is more to marketing and advertising than just shooting ‘a nice ad film’. This approach has never brought results and the whole industry will soon lose its relevance in a data-driven, result-oriented and hostile business environment.
For those of us who are passionate about advertising and believe in the true power of brands and narrative building, here are some measures to take.
1. Don’t Move without a Client Brief
A written brief is the first step towards creating work with measurable results and KPIs (aka accountability). Please do not wait for the Effie forms to ask your client, “What is the objective of the campaign?” If they are unable to write a few lines about their business and the marketing challenge, they do not deserve the job they have, or your time and effort. In my experience, such clients do not look at advertising as a tool to solve their marketing challenges, but as just a means to stay relevant within the advertising fraternity. ‘A nice ad film’ is usually a flex for their LinkedIn and Facebook. Pass them on to one of the “Ad hee tou banwana hai, hum say banwa lein” dudes. You will not regret this sacrifice.
2. Encourage Clients to Invest in Research, Data and Insights
I have always looked at advertising as a tool to solve business and marketing challenges. The first step is a good diagnosis and this requires research and access to data. If you and your client assume the category, brand and consumer challenges, then you are creating work for the boardroom, and not for your consumers. You cannot grow your brand unless you have zeroed in on the opportunities for growth through data.
3. Our Strength Is Playing Doctor, Not Being the Pharmacy
Clients who dictate solutions do not trust our craft. What makes us better than the “Ad hee tou banwana hai, hum say banwa lein” dude is our ability to diagnose and then provide customised communication solutions (not just an ad film) to address a specific brand or consumer challenge. Sometimes a good diagnosis will tell you that ‘A nice ad film’ is not even needed and a single tweet will do the job. Such honesty may lead to losing a short-term production commission, but it will earn you a client and a reputation for a lifetime.
4. Don’t Let Admad Dude Bash You and Patkho You like a Dhobi
Seriously! Is din ke liye advertising mein aye thay? Sharam? Haya? Love of data will give you measurable results, and measurable results will give you the courage to defend your work in the comments section. ‘Jo dar gaya, samjho mar gaya’.
5. Work for the Brand, Not the Client: Clients soon move on and take their mediocrity elsewhere. They will forget all the fancy food you fed them in no time. However, your disservice to the brand as an accomplice to an incompetent client will become a part of documented history. Don’t make your agency a graveyard for brands.
Salman Ali is Director Planning, MullenLowe Rauf. firstname.lastname@example.org