Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Are Brands Missing the Digital Point?

Published in May-Jun 2023

Stuck in a legacy mindset, brands are failing to use the unique features and functionalities that digital offers in their campaigns, argues Muhammad Ali Khan.

As specialised digital agencies keep popping up in every nook and corner and traditional agencies step up their digital game, while brands increasingly spend more and more on digital marketing, one would have expected Pakistan’s ad landscape to have evolved to become a digital-first one. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. It seems that while running digital campaigns, brands are still attuned to thinking about the science behind advertising in traditional terms. They are still treating digital as a platform where the brand idea has to be adapted to, rather than customised to the platform. 

The Same Repetitive Pattern

If you were to ask yourself what a typical Pakistani digital campaign looks like, the following repetitive pattern would emerge. One that is essentially based on three phases; teaser or pre-launch, launch and post-launch. The first phase will almost always have a sense of secrecy, the assumption being people are going to be excited because you are ‘keeping something from them.’ The launch phase is the campaign itself with the hero content and the post-launch will be hub content (from the Hero-Hub-Hygiene formula). I cannot recall the number of times I have sat through a campaign presentation where the same approach is discussed at length as if it were the outcome of some kind of genius revelation. Advertising is not mathematics where the same formula can be used for any brand situation.

Think About the Mode of Messaging, Not Just the Message

A fundamental aspect of advertising that separates award-winning digital campaigns from those we usually produce is that while we focus on getting the message right, we forget to think about the best way to bring the message to life. Brands that go big on digital usually choose one platform to run their campaign and then think about how to fully leverage that platform. For instance, Bacardi has demonstrated platform-focused creativity in leveraging Instagram’s features to craft distinctive and noteworthy digital content. Two standout campaigns perfectly exemplify their innovative approach. In their ‘Instant DJ’ campaign, Bacardi cleverly tapped into users’ ‘skipping’ behaviour on Instagram Stories. By presenting a series of stories, users were given the opportunity to become DJs simply by skipping through the content as every time they skipped a story they would hear different sounds; through a clever gamification strategy, users ended up creating different frequencies based on their skipping patterns to generate their own unique music. This interactive experience not only engaged users but also fostered a sense of playfulness and immersion in the brand. In ‘Live Moves’ in which Bacardi collaborated with A-Trak and Les Twins, the world’s first user-directed music video on Instagram was created. Here, users could direct the narrative of the music video by making real-time choices; by involving the audience in the creative process, Bacardi broke new ground in user engagement and content co-creation. The brand could have simply shot a great music video and posted it for users to enjoy, but they made proper use of the mode of messaging, rather than just hammering the message. These examples illustrate how Bacardi demonstrated their ability to think beyond conventional advertising approaches and unlock the potential of Instagram’s platform.

Discover What Each Platform has To Offer

Digital platforms are a treasure chest. They feature the widest array of branding opportunities since the advent of advertising. Although we claim to understand the possibilities these platforms offer, the truth is that we have only scratched the surface. Try and recall how many Pakistani brands have used these features innovatively or gone beyond their standard usage. In fact, even our bumper ads generally look like the five-seconders that come on TV as sponsored ads before a show resumes. This is because many brands often repurpose their TV commercials or print ads into online formats without making use of the unique capabilities available on digital. This misses the point of going digital; rather than fully leveraging digital, we are just ticking the digital presence box. We need to recognise that digital platforms allow for more than passive viewing. Interactive formats, such as shoppable ads, quizzes and augmented reality experiences provide avenues to actively engage consumers with a brand. Yet, as an industry, we are still stuck on the notion that unless the campaign contains a big-ticket ad film, it is not a big campaign.

Where Is the Data? 

When discussing the benefits of digital advertising, it’s impossible to miss analytics. Brands have the opportunity to monitor their advertising’s performance in real-time and make decisions based on that. With techniques like A/B testing, the effectiveness of campaigns can be gauged, yet with most Pakistani brands, it feels as if once a creative asset goes online, it is never coming down – regardless of performance. Brands need to step up their game and use data to drive their campaigns. This data can quite literally answer questions such as what people like and what they don’t like – an invaluable resource for efficient advertising.

To effectively tap into the treasure trove of digital advertising, brands need to think beyond traditional approaches, experiment with new formats and embrace the features and functionalities digital platforms provide. If they do this, brands will create impactful campaigns that forge deeper connections with their audience and drive meaningful results.

Muhammad Ali Khan is AVP/Manager Communications, JS Bank. He has previously served as Associate Director Strategy & Creative at Synergy Dentsu and Spectrum VMLY&R.