Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

A Good Fairy’s Sleep

Published in Nov-Dec 2022

Mehr Husain profiles Master MoltyFoam.

There is Tinkerbell, the mischievous fairy in Peter Pan and then there is Nanhi Pari, the Pakistani mattress. “In smaller cities, our dealers tell us that customers actually come in asking for the ‘Nanhi Pari’ mattress,” says Zakria Farid, Group Deputy GM Marketing, Master Group of Industries.

The Group consists of nine different business verticals, including bedding, home furniture, fashion, automotive, energy, textile and more. It is one of the biggest groups in Pakistan. It is Farid who will take me through the story of the Nanhi Pari.

To begin, nothing shines like Nanhi Pari. Who knew foam could wield such magic?

Post-Partition and pre-foam, there were three kinds of beds: cotton (the most popular), rubber (primarily an insulation material) and coconut shells, which led to the concept of knitted fabric.

It wouldn’t be until 1963 that the Master Group would venture into foam. The then-owner, Malik Ishaq, met a German chemist who was visiting Pakistan.

“The chemist told Malik that you are in the chemical and bedding business, why don’t you partner with us?”

There was a German organisation called Bayer which was making foam by the name of Molto-Pren in Germany. The term ‘pren’ referred to the chemical used to make foam. Bayer brought their brand of foam to Pakistan through the Master Group; this was when foam-based bedding was introduced to Pakistan. Borrowing ‘Molto’, MoltyFoam became the official name of the mattress.

But with three bedding alternatives in the market utilised for as long as time existed, was there a need for such a product?

“Cotton was expensive. The cotton used in furniture and bedding was ‘throw away’ cotton; pure, quality cotton was too expensive and catered to a small segment.”

Rubber bedding, on the other hand, was economical but a health hazard, because it was purely chemical. It was better suited for bicycle and motorcycle seats – cars were still rare post-Partition.

“The smell of the rubber would take three to four years to go away and all sorts of chemicals would permeate, causing health issues.”

Coconut shells were not locally produced, which meant they needed to be imported, making them a premium product.

The reality was that there was no comfortable bedding and a product was needed. However, for people who are averse to change, how easy could it have been to encourage them to switch to ‘foam’, this new invention that promised a good night’s sleep and was free from any health hazards?

Back in the seventies and eighties, Pakistan’s population was not as dense as it is now, so communication was easier in terms of getting the message across – and the target market was in the urban areas where there was a greater need for comfortable bedding.

“Societal constraints are always there, such as the rural areas where the waan charpai is still prevalent.”

To counter any resistance, a robust marketing campaign was needed where the product had to work with society and not cause disruption. Pakistan in the seventies and eighties had a young population open to the world. Celebrities, designers and global leaders flocked to the country and urbanisation was rapidly taking place. Women were glamorous and men were classy. Yet, there were still somewhat strict societal rules – men were very much the breadwinners and women were trying to create space for themselves in the professional realm.

“From the seventies to the eighties, the mattress was marketed to men, and in those days, product-centric communication was prevalent. One ad drew an analogy between a high-end Ford and MoltyFoam. If you owned this car you needed to own this mattress.”

By the late eighties, there was a new generation of Pakistanis, the post-Zia lot who wanted to embrace what the world had to offer and define itself, shrugging off the Zia legacy. Surely such a male-centric, product-oriented strategy could not have worked when consumers were feeding off content from India in particular?

“The marketing strategy evolved. This is an organisation that is constantly improvising, and there is a constant sense of wanting improvement. The management is always keeping their eyes on the future, so from a male-centric strategy, the MoltyFoam mattress began to be marketed as a luxury product. It became a status symbol.”

This is also when the IT boom was taking place (early nineties), yet it seems that Farid is correct when he says the Master Group was always ahead of the game.

“We have not stuck to one particular thing. There is a conscious effort to differentiate the brand from the product and I attribute that to the management’s keen interest in education and encouraging the next generation.”

In the mid-nineties, the company began to notice a trend; sales grew during the wedding season. It was becoming apparent that the MoltyFoam mattress was no longer just a luxury product and a symbol of modernity, it was becoming something more. Something that ran deeper; the recognition recognised that a daughter was not just something to be married off but had an identity, and her comfort mattered.

“In a wedding, the dulhan was important and so the focus was on the father-daughter relationship. The idea was to show that a parent’s love for their daughter is so strong, and a father in particular wanted to do anything to ensure the comfort of his daughter.”

And sales went through the roof. The ads portraying a little girl growing up, sleeping in the safety and comfort of her parent’s home was communicated through a mattress; it symbolised a wish of a father that his daughter would have that same safety and comfort in her new home. This approach tugged on the emotional sentiments of the bride’s family and every father aspired to buy a MoltyFoam mattress – or a ‘Nanhi Pari’ – to give to his daughter, as a way of ensuring a comfortable life for her ahead.

“We stuck to this approach until 2010. From the late nineties to the early 2010s, we were growing and expanding and started exporting to India. All of our ads were shot and produced in India by Ogilvy. We had understood the power of marketing and it was given a lot of importance.”

As the media expansion continued, another change was taking place, though this time it was internal. A new generation entered the business and the recognition that fresh blood brought with it fresh ideas. But how was this going to happen when one of the stakeholders refused to budge?

“We have a massive dealer network; 600 to 700 of them and they are very important stakeholders. They clung onto the Nanhi Pari concept.”

However, with digital media taking over and technology changing from computers to smartphones, the new management had to take the plunge. The consumer had changed. From Millennials and then Gen Z, there was an urgent need to communicate with the consumer differently. And so it was that in 2017, they shot their last Nanhi Pari ad with Mahira Khan. It helped sales and dealers loved the concept of Mahira as a bride. However, in terms of communicating with consumers, they were “looking for something else.”

It was also time to change the format of the communication. It was not just about social commentary; it was also about recognising the consumer’s right to know.

“We have 32 products and we need to cater to the educated, emancipated consumer. For the last 30 to 35 years we have shown the standard MoltyFoam. Yet, we have such innovative products. One of our mattresses has 13 different layers. Mattress making is a science and there is so much to consider.”

With such growth and vision, there is much magic to be expected from these ‘mattress experts’ as they demystify what Pakistanis are sleeping on.

“Consumers need to know what they are buying. Just as a lot of research is done when buying a phone or car, this is a product that you will use for years and years. The consumer needs to be respected.”

Nanhi Pari may be from an era long gone but it’s clear the magic is still going strong.

Mehr Husain is an author and publisher based in Lahore.