Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

What Makes a Pakistani Brand Iconic?

Pakistani brands need to work harder and smarter if they are to achieve real icon stature.
Updated 30 Dec, 2022 02:53pm

What a year 2022 has been.

Just after the threat of Covid-19 and its after-effects seemed to have (somewhat) abated, came the economic downturn and a further depreciating of the rupee, along with higher fuel prices and inflation reaching an all-time high. Then came the biggest climate disaster that Pakistan has faced to date in the form of the unprecedented floods from July to October that submerged two-thirds of the country. And somewhere in between, Pakistan turned 75. It was an occasion that many brands “celebrated”– with sales and the usual outpourings of patriotism.

However, it was a milestone nonetheless and perhaps the right time to examine how brands in Pakistan are faring. Therefore, the theme of this year’s annual issue is ‘Made in Pakistan’ and we posed four questions to over 100 heads of agencies and corporate organisations and received 78 responses. The first question asked them to name two Pakistani brands they consider the most iconic.

Twenty-four percent of the respondents named Shan, followed by Khaadi and Rooh Afza (21% each), Tapal (19%) and Dalda and Pakola (10% each). (Other popular brands included Coke Studio, HBL, MoltyFoam, National Foods and Sooper.) With the exception of Khaadi, all these brands are FMCGs. And except for Shan and Khaadi (they were established in 1981 and 1998 respectively), they have been around for as long as Pakistan has existed, give or take a few years. Rooh Afza was established before Partition, Tapal and Dalda in 1947 and Pakola in 1950 followed by Dalda in 1952. The fact that these six are among Pakistan’s oldest brands may have to do with their popularity.

In the words of Muhammed Hassan Ansari, Executive Director, Argus Advertising & Dunwell Communications, “Tapal and Shan have achieved icon status because of their recognisability and consistency, which has led to their incredibly loyal following.” Khalid Salim, CEO, RG Blue (incidentally previously Rooh Afza’s agency) adds that Rooh Afza is a quintessentially national brand that has evolved beyond traditional consumption in Ramzan. “Beginning with Times Square, New York, the brand has proudly introduced the red nectar spirit to multiple global audiences.”

So far, so good.

Our second question was: “Which two brands have the potential to be iconic in the future?” Here, Khaadi led with 14% of the ‘votes’ followed by Shan and Daraz (13% each) and Bykea and PSL (eight percent each). Other brands mentioned in response to this question included Dipitt, Gul Ahmed, Imtiaz Super Market and National Foods. Khaadi is well on its way to being a “lifestyle brand” in the opinion of many of the respondents, thanks to product extensions and increased emphasis on acquiring a global footprint. Daraz and Bykea are well established in the ‘digital realm’ and many agency and corporate heads think that iconic brands in the future will emerge from the tech space.

Iconic Now, Never or Soon?

However, another observation is the fact that as far as both questions are concerned, there was no big winner that captured over 30% of the responses, let alone a large majority (over 60%). Furthermore, two of the brands described as iconic in our first question – Shan (24%) and Khaadi (21%) – were also thought to have the potential to be iconic in the future (question two) by 14% and 13% respectively. Similarly, Tapal was considered iconic by 19% while six percent of the respondents thought it could be iconic in the future. These correlations indicate that agency and corporate heads are not obviously in consensus when it comes to naming iconic or emerging brands, as well as the fact that perhaps products, rather than brands, are dominating the landscape. Atiya Zaidi, MD & ECD, BBDO Pakistan, opines, “Instead of brands, I would say the two most iconic products to come out of Pakistan are Pakola and Rooh Afza. It is ironic that both are still products and never focused much on brand building. A huge opportunity is there for both to work on brand love and be relevant to the times.”

A Lack of Consistency – The Hallmark of Any Great Brand

Aurora also spoke to several advertising and marketing professionals and many of them, who spoke off the record, were not surprised that no brand emerged as a ‘big winner’ and attributed this to a lack of consistency in their messaging. This, in turn, brought forth another set of factors. One of them was the fact that for many organisations, the priority seems to be increasing sales and revenue rather than building brand love. However, shouldn’t it be the priority? Uncountable studies have shown the relationship between brand love and recall and sales. As Sheikh Adil Hussain states in What Makes a Pakistani Brand?, “Les Binet and Peter Fields in The Long and Short of It, talk about the 60:40 Principle, which says 60% of spending should go on long-term brand building and 40% on short-term tactics, which will result in better sales performance.”

Another factor to emerge is a lack of brand custodians on the agency and clientside – in other words, “marketing leadership” – who understand the brand’s ethos and want it to remain consistent. This could be because professionals on both sides hop frequently and replicate the ideas they already used at their previous organisation without keeping in mind the brand’s ethos and values.

Where Are the Big Ideas?

A reason for this lack of consensus regarding which brands are iconic and which are not could be the lack of consistent big ideas. This is further substantiated by the fact that when talking about brand effectiveness, many agency and corporate heads recalled brands whose messaging has remained consistent over time. For example, Dalda’s ‘Jahan Maamta, Wahan Dalda’ and State Life Insurance’s ‘Aye Khuda Meray Abu Salamat Rahain’. In fact, Dalda’s tagline has not changed and it was used to illustrate that motherhood can also be extended to stepmothers – only to go back to the oft-used mother-son paradigm with Fawad Khan (agency and corporate heads also mention the overuse of celebrity endorsements as a negative factor). State Life Insurance has recently revived its original jingle that dates to the eighties or even earlier, and taken it further to “Aye Khuda Meri Ami Abu Salamat Rahain” and “Aye Khuda Meri Dharti Salamat Rahain”, illustrating the fact that a ‘big’ idea can survive changing times and remain relevant. These were not only big ideas; they were successfully metamorphosed into memorable jingles – a distinctive trait in Pakistani advertising.

Jingling All the Way – To Distinctiveness?

In fact, jingles were quoted several times in the response to Aurora’s question three: “In your opinion, which three words best sum up what is most distinctive about Pakistani advertising?” Muhammad Ehtisham Khan, COO, Candyland Pakistan, states: “Pakistani advertising has three pillars which stem from the collective attitude and psychology of Pakistanis. They are emotional appeal, catchy jingles and pretty faces. Having said this, the advertising industry is trying to play catch up with a new generation of digitally savvy viewers with very short attention spans.” Faisal Amanat Khan, GM Marketing, FrieslandCampina Engro Pakistan, agrees: “Pakistan’s advertising is distinctive in three ways. In how they depict the richness and values of Pakistani culture. Unique storytelling filled with emotion. The use of music, poetry and jingles; this is intrinsic to Pakistani advertising and used in very few markets.”

The Good, the Bad and the….

Question three was open-ended. Suffice it to say that even the people who were optimistic about what makes our advertising distinctive were rather critical at times, and responses ranged from positive to plain negative and mixed. For example, while for Syed Amir Haleem, CEO, Skale Interactive, the three words that make our advertising distinctive are evolving, lazy and unrelatable. Ahmad Kapadia, CEO & Chairman, Synergy Group, does not mince words when he says: “As soon as practitioners shift emphasis from form to content, we would be in a better position to judge our advertising in three words. For now, it’s all about waywardness and mediocrity with negligible hints of originality.” Other criticisms include a lack of storytelling, data-driven messaging and consumer insights, and the overuse of celebrities.

Jamal Mir, MD, Prestige Communications, is more positive: “Localisation: The industry has been able to generate a number of inspiring local brand stories. Production: Many brand stories have been built around engaging TVCs with solid production values. Diversification: From being print driven to TV and now digital media.” Another positive observation came from Umber Ansari, Head of Marketing & Communications, Engro Group. “A few features I am extremely excited to see in Pakistani advertising include the use of strong women and girls, intentional inclusivity for diversity and powerful storylines. As for distinctiveness, we are still playing catch up with the world.” Perhaps Shahvaar Ali Khan, Founder & Chief Creative Director, Farigh Four, sums it up best with: “Finding its soul.”

The Cost of Being Risk Averse

One of the words used to describe our advertising is “risk averse”, both on and off the record and a creative chalks this up to the increasing conservatism apparent in today’s society (‘culture’ and ‘values’ were repeatedly used in response to question three). Anjum Nida Rahman, Head of Corporate Affairs, Sanofi says: “We are risk averse, so we copy what works. Apart from the Ufone ads with Adeel and Faisal, we never really developed a character or a series of shorts.” Ghazanfar Azzam, CEO, Mobilink Microfinance Bank, says that “Pakistani advertising is stuck in terms of cultural and societal norms. The focus needs to shift to over 65% of the population – those under 30. They belong to the future with rapidly changing work-life settings.”

Gen Z – Elusive or Not?

This may be the right place then to steer our attention to Aurora’s fourth question: “In what ways do marketing communication strategies have to change to resonate with Gen Z?” The prevalent views centred on an increased emphasis on data-driven campaigns, tailor-made (rather than adapted) content on digital media, an even more aggressive presence on digital, specifically on newer and lesser-used platforms such as TikTok, in addition to Instagram and YouTube, increased influencer marketing and an added emphasis on content that is mobile-friendly and aligned towards engagement keeping in mind Gen Z’s ‘limited attention spans’. It seems that ‘less text, more videos’ seems to be a favoured mantra when it comes to connecting with Gen Z. However, here again, there is an emphasis on brand building, specifically on focusing on storytelling and “an openness to tougher topics, such as mental health” along with “humour, parody and user-generated content,” as Ammar Hamdani, CEO, KaroKonnect mentions. Authenticity is a word that seems to be synonymous with Gen Z as are the words “purpose driven.”

Aamir Khwaja, Group CEO, Mullenlowe Rauf Group, points out that “Gen-Z can sniff out insincerity and brand-speak better than most blood-hounds… show them you understand their values and passion. Stand for something that matters and has purpose… then follow it through with action.” Another piece of advice is to “listen” to Gen Z via research rather than making generalised assumptions and innovating. In the words of Sheeza Ahmed, Head of Marketing and Corporate Communications, HabibMetro Bank, “be present where they are: radio and digital are increasingly important (prepare to embrace the Metaverse!). Take advertising beyond rap music and neon colour schemes: break through the clutter and find different ways to get Gen Z’s share of mind (and wallet!).”

Ultimately, when it comes to Gen Z, perhaps Noaman Asar hits the nail on the head when he states that “understanding this fast-paced, always ‘logged in’ generation is key to the success of any brand. In fact, when it comes to marketing to this generation in Pakistan, the urgency is only multiplied. They make up nearly 30% of the population and form their own consumer market. Pakistani Gen Z is the future of our economy… Gen Z is the future of the market and ignoring them means ignoring a population that defines what the market is all about. As marketers, we still do not know enough about them. It is crucially important that we do” in Understanding Pakistan’s New Consumers.

A Moment of Truth?

Whether consumers are Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X or Baby Boomers, the fact remains that a return to “basics” when it comes to brand building may be what is required most if we are to create iconic brands and advertising that spells magic. The brands that reach ‘global’ iconic status will be those that cater to global audiences and could possibly include Bykea and Daraz, textiles that produce western wear – Khaadi or Gul Ahmed – or FMCGs such as Dipitt or Tapal. As Umair Saeed, COO, Blitz says: “The strategies have not changed much, although a lot of marketers would like to believe that they have reinvented marketing through their amazing campaigns for Gen Z. A new medium or ad format, and using a rap musician do not qualify as a strategy. The most successful marketing campaigns are still produced by nailing the fundamentals of marketing.”

In conclusion, it would not be amiss to say that an added emphasis on brand building and all that it entails, irrespective of medium – or the target group’s age segment – is important. Only then, perhaps, would the results of a poll on Pakistan’s iconic brands showcase landslide victories for at least two brands if not more.