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“Digital transformation is a great term that can be hashtagged on LinkedIn”

Javed Jafri, Media, Data and Digital Lead, Unilever Pakistan, speaks to Mamun M. Adil about the ever-changing media space in light of increasing digitisation and AI.
Published 20 Jul, 2023 03:28pm

MAMUN M. ADIL: You have worked in the media industry for almost two decades; how has your career progressed during this time?

JAVED JAFRI: I joined Pak MediaCom in 1999 after graduating and I worked there for four years or so before joining Tapal’s media department for almost two years. Then I relocated to Islamabad from Karachi and joined Telenor where I helped set up their media department. I joined Unilever in 2010. I think one of the reasons I was hired at Unilever was because they wanted to put things on a fast track as the telecom industry itself is fast-paced. I think I was the first person to be hired mid-career at Unilever. We introduced Pakistan Idol and then Master Chef. After that, I moved to Unilever in Malaysia where I looked after media for Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. It was an amazing experience in terms of dealing with a diverse consumer base and set of colleagues. After eight years, I decided to move back to Pakistan, and luckily I had the opportunity to continue working with Unilever.

MMA: How would you describe your role at Unilever Pakistan? 

JJ: I am currently the custodian of the media investment made by our brands across all BUs (business units) and categories. When I say custodian, it means that I look after media investment across all touchpoints. We work with our strategic partner Mindshare. They are a crucial partner, as they do the planning and budgeting as well as the negotiations; they are essentially our market interface. I also oversee the internal digital presence of our brands.

MMA: How do you view the Pakistani market after having worked abroad for nearly a decade?

JJ: I look at Pakistan from a different lens; from the point of view that it is a country with a population of 250 million people – and a digital population of at least 120 million, which is three to four times higher than that of a country like Malaysia, which has a digital penetration of 90 to 100% and a population of 32 million. Given our digital population, it is unfair to say that Pakistan is not digitally savvy because it is. Furthermore, Pakistan has four to five telecom companies operating here, which is rare, and we have 180 million people using single and multiple mobile devices. In this context, we can say that they are digitally literate although they may not necessarily be literate in the conventional sense. There is a massive opportunity in terms of integration between FMCGs and telecoms, as well as within the new marketing ecosystem that is evolving through digital channels such as EasyPaisa, JazzCash and U Bank. In comparison, the marketing ecosystem is limited in other countries. In Pakistan, there is a massive scale. 

MMA: What other platforms are worth exploring?

JJ: Channels that will gain traction are those like Daraz and other e-commerce and OTT platforms. They are likely to become the media channels of choice for many advertisers; this is what is happening in Southeast Asia. Although platforms such as Google and Facebook are playing an important role in developing the industry, I think local publishers need to ramp up their content so that advertisers can invest more in them. In fact, given Pakistan’s current economic and political problems, we want to invest locally and support local content. One of the reasons why we are putting money behind the top five or six channels is because they constitute 80% of the overall viewership; the remaining ones do not run a lot of new content and they need to do so. I think that in future, brands such as Samsung and LG will become bigger players than Facebook and Google, and will start to sell ad space.

MMA: What other challenges do you foresee?

JJ: When we classify our target audiences, we need to start shifting from demographic targeting to interests and behaviours. We need to look at groups such as mothers, Gen Zs and Millennials rather than people in age brackets; you can find an SEC A+ individual in Faisalabad who earns more than $10,000 every month while we may think he belongs to SEC E because of his household profile. This needs to change. Another challenge is the fact that advertisers do not have multiscreen planning options [from media houses] because their systems are not designed in this way. Media houses tend to have separate teams for TV and digital, although audiences use both platforms, if not more. They will watch Tum Mere Ho at night on TV but will catch the repeat on YouTube, yet advertisers have to pay separately to communicate with them on different platforms.

MMA: Does this mean that there should be integrated advertising tariffs? 

JJ: Yes; instead of a TV channel or a newspaper, media houses should sell their networks. At the end of the day, we are trying to reach their consumers on different mediums – and in this way, advertisers can optimise their media spends. We need a lot more consolidation; perhaps large networks need to acquire smaller ones because there is an affinity for specialised channels, like food or music. It is important to remember that consumers are not watching everything on regular TV; they are also using their smartphones and other screens.

MMA: What are your views on digital transformation? 

JJ: Digital transformation is a great term that can be hashtagged on LinkedIn. However, looking at it from the lens of the consumer, I ask myself, what can I do to optimise my processes to ensure that their journey is seamless; that they can click and buy my ice cream and have it delivered within 10 minutes? However, creating a direct-to-consumer model is not easy. There is a cost involved in the backend and it will take some time to implement. On a global level, we are gradually trying to create a model where we start directly engaging with consumers rather than just the retailer and wholesaler, and for this, more integration has to take place.  

MMA: What about internal digital transformation?

JJ: This involves having a digital council inside an organisation, having the right management and making sure that there is a regular learning agenda for all teams – be it the leadership team or the brand team. I think the prevailing mindset is: “This is not my domain – I’m handling sales”; they tend to think that digital transformation is not relevant to them. However, I do think there’s a progression happening and things will improve. Even countries like Malaysia have not digitally transformed themselves completely despite having nearly 100% digital penetration; companies there are also struggling to drive digital transformation, sometimes because of the impact it may have on people’s jobs. 

MMA: How should brands rethink their communication strategies? 

JJ: Gone are the days of having a one-year media strategy. You need a monthly strategy or at most, a quarterly one, and it should be based on parameters such as consumers and social and political outlooks. Strategies should change regularly if there is no visible impact on sales or volume growth. There is a need for agile planning and budgeting, and taking advantage of tools such as programmatic advertising and following audiences closely.

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