Published in Nov-Dec 2022
In their quest to find a place in people’s hearts and homes, Pakistani brands have shown innovation and ambition. It is a credit to the spirit of enterprise and resilience that many brands have succeeded in changing habits and lifestyles, in urban and rural Pakistan. Presenting – with drumrolls – a small selection of Pakistan’s pioneering brands.
1. TeeJay’s (Tanveer Jamshed)
A pioneer designer – if ever there was one in Pakistan – Tanveer Jamshed (founder of brand TeeJay’s) had the right ideas at the right time – i.e. making shalwar kameez stylish in the seventies. Actually, TeeJay’s was greatly helped by the fact that the leader of the then recently elected PPP government, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was promoting the shalwar kameez as a way of reclaiming national identity, following the loss of East Pakistan. The ‘awami jora’ as it came to be known, gained popularity not just among the ‘awaam’ but among the elite. The Sind Club too began to accept the entry of people in shalwar kameez (albeit with a waistcoat). In an interview a few years ago, Jamshed is quoted as saying, “I did not invent the shalwar kameez – I made it fashionable.”
That he did! He introduced innovations in design that caught on – pockets with flaps, geometrical patterns and lots of buttons. Plus, brighter colours, away from the drab shades of the usual shalwar kameez. TeeJay’s popularity soared and he was entrusted with designing the wardrobe for the actors of several popular drama series of the time. Soon the men’s range was expanded to outfits for women as well, maintaining the signature factors in design – pockets and flaps, geometrical looks, etc. Pret is all the rage today and choosing to buy off the peg is taken for granted. However, while TeeJay’s may not be a high street brand today, it changed forever the elite’s attitude towards the ordinary shalwar kameez.
2. National Foods
I grew up at a time when every morning, maids were assigned the task of grinding fresh spices. This was done on flat stone slabs and a sort of stone roller was used for grinding chillies, ginger, turmeric, etc. into a smooth paste. This was a time-consuming and labour-intensive process; however, the cook was assured of getting pure and fresh spices for the day’s meals. Soon after, unbranded powdered spices became available but concerns about purity limited their usage. Enter National Foods in 1970. By introducing ready-to-use ground spices, produced in a hygienic environment, the brand aimed to change consumer habits in a big way.
It was destined for success as the product concept was based on a strong insight: consumers did not want the inconvenience of grinding spices, yet were not willing to trust the unbranded powdered spices available in the market. The brand launched its journey with basic spices – chillies, coriander, ginger, etc. – but fast-changing urban lifestyles and needs prompted National Foods to introduce recipe mixes for a host of popular Pakistani dishes and later, sauces and condiments. The brand has consistently projected family relationships and has recently graduated to the larger platform of ‘National ka Pakistan’. Initially, the only competition National Foods had was from Ahmed Foods; however, as a habit-changing brand, it was bound to face more competition. Today, Shan Foods is giving a quality choice to consumers. But it is National that will always enjoy the status of a pioneering brand.
3. Rose Petal
At one time, when you sneezed you looked around for a hanky. Today, you simply reach out for a tissue – most likely from a box of Rose Petal. Launched in 1982 by Packages Limited, Rose Petal is used in over seven million homes (according to its website). And it’s not just facial tissues that have entered households and offices. Rose Petal’s range includes paper napkins, toilet and kitchen rolls as well as paper plates and cups. Today, facial tissues, in particular, are so ubiquitous that boxes can be seen everywhere – from the prime minister’s house to a car’s dashboard. Rose Petal may have changed habits and lifestyles, but not everyone uses this premium brand. There are many cheaper varieties available and even roadside eateries offer their customers tissue paper and paper napkins, even if not of the same quality. There is, of course, a flip side to this consumption habit.
While paper products are bio-degradable, the production of paper products in such quantities is bound to have an environmental impact. Yet, however big the threat to trees, there seems to be no going back. The desire for convenience, above all, is deeply entrenched in today’s consumers. It is hard to imagine hankies being stitched and even embroidered – as they once were! The tissue box and the rolls – kitchen or toilet – will continue to rule our lives as we choose ease over the environment.
Traditionally, Pakistanis have cared very little about oral hygiene. It’s one of those countries where the growth in toothpaste usage is abysmal, despite intensive media campaigns by brands such as Colgate and Sensodyne, promoting not just their products but good dental practices. The only dental product to have made a difference to customary practices of cleaning teeth is, perhaps, Dentonic tooth powder by Ala Chemicals. People who were using powdered coal or miswak, for example, were happy to switch to Dentonic. It had the abrasive quality they believed helped clean teeth but was convenient to use and rinse out. The company marketed the toothpowder with claims of stopping bleeding gums and preventing cavities – apart from cleaning teeth, of course. In a country where hardly anyone visits the dentist, this cure-all proposition was particularly attractive.
There is also an inherent mistrust in toothpaste among a sizeable number of consumers who express doubts about the ingredients that go into a tube. A powered form, on the other hand, is visible for what it is. The trust in the Dentonic name led the company to diversify into all types of toothpaste – from fluoride to sensitive teeth formula, as well as ultra-whitening for cosmetic purposes. However, it will continue to be known for its flagship product – Dentonic tooth powder. The company’s confidence in its ace product is demonstrated by the fact that the old-fashioned logo and fonts still dominate the packaging.
5. Bonus Tristar Washing Powder
Bonus Tristar, today Pakistan’s highest-selling detergent, took on a daunting task when it entered the market in the late nineties. At the time of launch, Bonus Tristar’s competition was not from other detergent brands but from traditional laundry practices (laundry bars, or a mix of soda and unbranded powder). Aimed primarily at households in Punjab, Bonus had to demonstrate its efficacy and challenge entrenched beliefs and habits. Apart from ensuring excellent distribution and visibility, Bonus relied on effective – and humorous – communication to attack each problem faced by laundry soap users. The campaigns included showing socially embarrassing situations faced when clothes washed in laundry soap left visible flakes on clothes, gave off a bad smell, or made the fabric weak. It appealed to the Punjabi households – primarily rural – who are known to be proud of their status in the community and biradari.
The market for Bonus grew rapidly, changing forever the laundry habits of consumers in the Punjab belt where it initially aimed its marketing efforts. Today, Bonus Tristar has moved beyond the geographical areas of the initial years of its launch. It is now a popular brand in urban areas across the country. The brand’s continued reliance on humour in its campaigns has also paid off. Its leadership status can be gauged from the fact that both its name and packaging elements (including the prominent use of yellow as a brand colour) have been widely imitated by brands trying to ride on its wave of success. As inflation hits more and more people, it is likely that secondary detergent brands, such as Bonus Tristar, will enjoy greater market growth.
Zohra Yusuf is Chief Creative Officer, Spectrum VMLY&R.
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