Pakistan’s Vanishing Icons
Published in Nov-Dec 2022
There is no formula that can determine whether or not a brand will become iconic – not even hard work or competence. You may do a lot of things right and your brand may still end up being just another brand. The makers of potato chips Oye Hoye may say that they did most things right. The product was good and the communication was impressive, yet the brand did not sustain the pressures of the competition. On the other hand, brands such as Nivea enjoy cult status despite minimal marketing efforts at the local level. Then there are those brands that start well but are unable to evolve and keep up with the times. Kodak, Blackberry and Nokia are global examples where the technology evolved faster than the brand was able to adapt, and were left behind. Today there is no BBM Pin or Kodak Moment.
Pakistan too had its share of iconic brands, some of which have maintained their status over a long period. Dalda, Dawlance and Shan, among others, are still strong competitors in their categories, if not the market leaders. They have evolved, modernised, extended their offerings and kept attracting new audiences, while other brands were unable to do this.
Here are some brands that have either faded from the market or lost their once-iconic status.
No discussion. No list of Pakistani iconic jingles would be complete without Naurus’ ‘Bhool Na Jana Phir Pappa’. In the eighties, Naurus was one-half of a fierce duopoly in Pakistan’s red syrup market, competing neck and neck with Rooh Afza. Today, although Karachi’s famous Naurus Chowrangi still stands, the brand itself is no competitor to today’s other market leader Jam-e-Shireen. This loss of market share could be attributed to better marketing and distribution by Jam-eShireen, as well as a lack of focus on the national market by Naurus. Were I to ask you when Naurus last produced a new TVC, you would not remember, nor would their marketing team, perhaps.
Dentonic Tooth Powder
A fondly remembered brand in the eighties no doubt. Yet, ask anyone born after 1990 and the chances are they will not have any recall of the brand. Dentonic’s simple, yet iconic animated TVC is still loved by the eighties generation. The brand’s problems stemmed from the toothpowder category decline in favour of a strong toothpaste market led by Colgate and Unilever, as a substitute for the less effective toothpowder. Dentonic did try to enter the toothpaste category, but by then it was too late to compete with the market leaders and that eventually bowed out of the mainstream competition, although it still exists in the market, iconic it is no more.
Igloo King Cone, when competing with Polka for ice cream market leadership, claimed that ‘There Can Be Only One King’. Polka was then acquired by Unilever and rebranded as Wall’s and benefitted from the impetus a brand would get with such backing. In the late 2000s, Engro Food’s Omoré entered the market making things even more difficult for older players like Igloo. Today, the ice cream (or ‘dairy desserts’ as it should be called) category is a fight between Wall’s and Omoré for market dominance.
Almost a year and a half ago, Nestlé withdrew their brand Maggi from the Pakistani market. This is not the first time Nestlé has done so in Pakistan. Polo and Nesquik are other examples, but the failure of Maggi hurts the most. Especially given that in India, Maggi is Nestlé’s biggest brand. Yet in Pakistan, Maggi was never able to take off. Calling Maggi iconic in the local market may be a bit of a stretch, but it does not change the fact that everyone who knew about noodles as a category knew about Maggi. Awareness and recall were never the issues, hence the borderline iconic status. Nestlé did try; creating campaign after campaign, innovating the flavours and more. But the brand did not pick up and eventually, the plug was pulled on a brand that had so much potential. Given Nestlé’s infrastructure and clout, Maggi’s failure remains a mystery.
Harvey Dent’s line “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain”, could apply to Tarang. It came, it saw, it conquered, it messed up, it died – or is dying. A brand that crossed production of one million litres a day and which created a tea whitener market with high profitability is merely producing 60 to 70K litres a day now and has become just one of many in the fragmented tea whitener category. To be fair, the fact that the Supreme Court declared tea whiteners to contain preservatives and chemicals and that their packaging should clearly state they are not milk based did not help. Nevertheless, the brand could still have stayed afloat had they not messed with the formulation to save on costs. Tarang made a last-ditch attempt at a revival in 2019 with a mega relaunch, but that did not help the brand, and today both the company and their consumers have moved on from Tarang like an indifferent man who has moved on from a toxic relationship.
Before being acquired by Unilever, or even after, Rafhan remained a key player in the food segment. All Rafhan brands had strong communication platforms and distribution infrastructures. However, as time went by and Unilever’s focus on food brands declined, there was no category development for both beverages, whereas the cooking oil industry became too competitive. Although Rafhan is still in the market, it no longer holds the iconic and leadership position it once did as an innovative Pakistani brand.
Was Ufone iconic? Yes. No discussion on ‘Good Pakistani ads’ is complete without Ufone. The series of humorous ads that ran from 1998 to about 2010 is still remembered by almost everyone, but do they all use the brand? Definitely not. In the pecking order of telecom operators, Ufone ranks fourth in a list of four players. Does the brand still exist? Yes. Is it iconic? No. Do people still talk about its campaigns? No. Does it have a high market share? No. Whether the brand was iconic or not, its communication strategy and creatives definitely were. Ufone does not need evolution, it needs a revolution.
For the majority of these brands, the problem seems to have been their inability to evolve with the times. Today, I see other brands at risk of dying or becoming irrelevant. Pizza Hut could be next. Bonanza is losing its position as a mainstream player in the fashion industry which it built up so well. Tullo is fighting a hard battle in the cooking oil category. My biggest worry is Nestlé’s Milkpak. The brand is going through an existential crisis due to a lack of focus and priority. If that happens, it will really be another iconic brand that goes down.
Sami Qahar is a marketer turned film producer. firstname.lastname@example.org
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