Published in Mar-Apr 2023
To imagine what Pakistani brands may look like in 2023, we first have to define the context in which they could exist. In such cases, it is always easier if someone else has done some of the imagining before – then all one has to do is refer to this pre-existing framework and build upon it.
So what could be better than a future vision of Pakistan as defined by Javed Jabbar in his essay, 100 Years of Pakistan: A Visualization of 2047 published in The News on August 14, 1997?
Admittedly, Jabbar’s essay is socio-political in nature, and of limited use when attempting to imagine where brands could be in 2033. Nevertheless, it does provide an overall context of what, in his view, Pakistan could look like in 2047 – and from thereon, one could try to extrapolate the impact on brands and marketing. So here goes.
According to Jabbar, in 2047 Pakistan will be closer to the country envisaged by the Quaid-i-Azam, due to a “cataclysmic event” that takes place in 2021 and which Jabbar terms “The Great Revolution.” In Jabbar’s scenario: “In the space of 26 years between 2021 and 2047, a system evolves wherein citizens are assured of basic security. Law and order are enforced… This single-minded, inflexible enforcement of justice has an extraordinary ripple effect embracing all other sectors… From education to health services, from electricity to traffic, from payment of taxes to the construction of roads, strict observance of specifications made the quality of life exceptional… population growth continues unabated making Pakistan the third most populous country in the world… Corruption is now a caged beast, visible and containable. Education was comprehensively restructured by 2025 and 95% literacy achieved by 2030. Media became more accessible to people… Art, literature, and music explored new realms of creativity. There was a phenomenal increase in book reading.”
What Jabbar does not touch upon are the evolving technologies and digital infrastructures – and in this context, in 2023 we are already at 50% broadband penetration, with the number of smartphones having overtaken feature phones. Given this reality, we can extrapolate that by 2033, 5G is available everywhere, internet penetration has reached 100% and wearable technology has taken off. AI tools are prevalent within agencies and companies; e-commerce has shot through the roof and the freelance sector has exploded in terms of quantity and quality and Pakistan is that much more connected with the world. Due to population growth, the consumer base has grown and it is one that is both digitally savvy and inclined to try new products, services, and technologies.
In this scenario, chances are that local companies would have had a great time of it. Increased economic stability and population growth have brought in a period of sustained growth that has provided the next generation of business owners with the opportunity to broaden their vision. They can look towards consolidation and competing on a global scale. The relative absence of red tape, corruption and uncertainty has unleashed a wave of creativity and innovation across the economy.
Pakistan now has one of the biggest food groups in the South Asian region. The result of a merger between EBM, National Foods (NFL) and Tapal. Each one of these entities has unleashed legions of innovations using each other’s expertise, creating stronger portfolios. Tapal owns the breakfast table, offering a range of products that include rusks, bread, milk, tea whitener and butter. EBM has forayed into candies and chocolates and NFL has broken into pasta among other food categories. The synergies of these products has led to efficiencies thereby allowing the new entity to become one of Pakistan’s biggest exporters.
Dalda has invested heavily in Shan Foods, diversifying its portfolio and creating a global footprint. Both brands have churned out iconic ad campaigns and inspired a new cohort of creatives and brand managers alike.
Pepsi and Coke have imposed taxes on sugary drinks and launched organic versions of their drinks, retaining the fizz but none of the artificial ingredients. There is talk of one of them sponsoring the 18th edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) and convincing the Pakistan Cricket Board to play an exhibition match before the Super Bowl LXVII in the US. PSL has now become a global event with a worldwide following.
Detergents are witnessing a strong tussle between Brite and Surf along with Ariel and Tide (imported). Ariel has retired Wasim Akram as their brand ambassador and replaced him with Babar Azam. Premium brands are available in the liquid detergent segment and account for approximately 20% of the market. Laundry additives such as softeners and whiteners came and went in a flash as the benefits from single products are preferred by consumers. Dishwashing liquid is the dominant format in the segment, with Max liquid soap leading the way and new entry Priln taking second position. Auto dishwashers have grown exponentially and are now present in roughly five percent of urban households, thereby making dishwashing tablets by Finish popular enough to encourage Reckitt to consider local production.
The hard surface cleaning category has exploded, with Dettol’s 4-in-1 multi-cleaner, the most popular floor cleaner. Max and Clorox are moving from phenyl and acid-based products. New sprays and trigger formats are available from brands like Harpic and Jif for deep bathroom cleaning. Abrasives like Vim powder have disappeared as more specialised and easier to use products become available.
The personal care category has seen the biggest revolution with shampoos offering refill options and bespoke options online with customised choices in the base formulation. The post-hair wash segment has become extremely fragmented with a plethora of conditioner and styling formats from both international and local brands. The skincare segment only offers specialised products made by individual business owners who have become as big as some companies in terms of size and who do most of their business via live commerce.
After the failure of their popcorn chips, Lay’s have done away with innovation altogether and are sticking to changing the shapes of their chips and the packaging. Furthermore, new local players have made a dent in Lay’s dominant market share due to their knowledge of local tastes and ability to develop relevant flavours.
All subsidies have been removed from the textile sector and Al Karam, Gul Ahmed and Outfitters have gone into value-added outputs, leading to a flurry of flagship stores opening in the Metaverse.
E-commerce sales are upwards of 30% for most CPG brands. Online order volumes have gone through the roof and last-mile delivery costs have hit rock bottom, thanks to pick-up points and doorstep deliveries. Imtiaz has become the biggest e-tailer after its acquisition of Daraz post Ali Baba’s split into multiple entities. Bykea, Careem and InDrive have merged into a single super transport app controlled by the Hashoo Group, which have combined their Marriott and PC hotel chains to develop end-to-end solutions aimed at capitalising on rising domestic and international tourism.
Perhaps the biggest change has come in the way the marketing and ad industries work. We are back to the all services under one roof model. The big creative agencies have merged with the big media buying houses. Digital is the biggest reach builder and real-time viewership and ratings are available through smart TVs in a representative sample of households. The big agencies run small offices and an army of personnel employed via contracts; they work remotely and are offered one-off jobs by clients on platforms such as Upwork. Clients are free to work with any individual whose work they like regardless of agency affiliation. Production houses have become defunct or pivoted into full-time filmmaking entities.
Back in 2023 and this looks like quite a fantasy. One based on the idea of consolidation, innovation and global outreach. Perhaps it is enough to say that the future of brands, companies and consumer behaviour may be unknown, but the basics of creativity, human application and brand building will always remain the same.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction and fantasy based on the fictional work of another author. All scenarios, innovations and corporate moves mentioned have no basis in truth.
Sheikh Adil Hussain is Marketing Director – Hair Care, Unilever Pakistan.