Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Great Expectations

Noaman Asar discusses how Pakistani consumers have radically altered in their expectations and behaviour.
Updated 16 Jan, 2024 02:47pm

Wow! Aurora is twenty-five!

Interestingly, I have been in the industry for as many years as well.

Everything has changed in these decades except that Aurora remains the most aspired Pakistani magazine for a marketer to write in.

To celebrate this milestone, I thought it would be interesting to look back at how Pakistani consumers have changed over this period in terms of their media habits and psychographics.

To begin with, Pakistan’s population has grown from 146 million to 242 million. This means that there are almost 100 million more Pakistanis now. In 25 years, our population has multiplied by 1.62, making us the world’s fifth biggest market. Our consumer base is of a size that has the potential to attract any brand, even more so, given that 65% of this huge population are below the age of 30 and 40% of this population were not around when Aurora was launched (or when I started my career)!

However, it also means that this market is changing at an amazingly fast pace in terms of its desires, needs and aspirations. For people my age, two-thirds of the Pakistani population does not know anything about the following (until and unless they love reading about Pakistani history): The tough job market that the class of 1998 faced, because their graduation coincided with sanctions imposed on Pakistan due to nuclear bomb testing; that Pakistan won the Cricket World Cup in 1992; that Wasim Akram is the world’s best bowler rather than the ‘uncle’ who appears in Ariel ads; that Benazir Bhutto was the Muslim world’s first female Prime Minister and that in the nineties we had only two TV channels (PTV and STN).

All of this means that the psychology of consumers in today’s Pakistan works on completely different mnemonics and heuristics than the one that marketers of my generation were trained in. Some of the major events that shaped the behaviours and psychographics of this current market are: The world almost shut down due to Covid-19. They are experiencing the highest inflation rate in Pakistan’s history. They can watch over 100 TV channels at any time of the day. They are experiencing intense technological advancement and growth via access to smartphones and with revolutionising apps like WhatsApp and Google Maps. They have more power to consume content of their own choice and to stir up and impact conversations.

As a result, today’s generation is more opinionated. They still watch TV, but they have the advantage of flipping through a plethora of channel options, as well as innumerable screens to watch their content on.

It is estimated that approximately 72 million people use social media (32% of the population). A study by Oula (in cooperation with Kantar) tells us that the most popular social media platforms are Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat – and although no marketer can ignore these social media tools, it is important to understand which of these platforms work better with which population segment. Brands should also make sure that their brand persona and tonality matches with the app they want to be on. Also, diverse types of platforms are suitable for different types of communication.

At Oula, our understanding is that Facebook and TikTok are by far the most popular platforms for Pakistanis. However, in terms of affinity and relevance, both these platforms attract vastly different profiles of users. Facebook is used by an older cohort of consumers and who are more educated than TikTok users. However, if marketers want to reach out to younger but less well-educated buyers, then TikTok is a much better option. TikTok is about short videos whereas Facebook provides more flexibility in terms of formats. There are a little less than three million content creators on TikTok. However, the role of influencers or content creators is especially important on both applications. This means that brand managers should have an exceptionally good understanding of which influencers or content creators are congruent with the personality of their brands. The typical approach used by brand managers of yesteryear for their TVCs is not the best one for social media. A better comprehension of how to integrate the brand and its story on platforms like TikTok is now required. One such seamless integration was when Danish Ali used the Sooper jingle for one of his viral videos and which demonstrated the potential of viral content to grow brand awareness and affinity.

However, in this world of the virtual, we are not dependent on real influencers only. At Kantar, there is a lot of talk about virtual influencers. Avatars are providing brands an opportunity to craft influencers around their core values and relatability. A new class of influencers is emerging. For example, Angie is setting new standards in China by celebrating her ‘imperfections.’ She has around 300,000 followers.

Pakistan is catching up on this trend slowly. Virtual Verse created a Pakistani virtual influencer called Maya, and which started conversations around the benefits of such avatars for brands in Pakistan and BBC Urdu covered this trend in one of its reports.

Two other social media platforms immensely popular in Pakistan are Instagram and Snapchat and marketers should not ignore them, as about a third of social media users are using these platforms. Of the apps discussed above, Instagram seems to be the most effective in generating sales due to the advertising found on it. It is extremely popular among young people and the well-educated as well. More women (in percentage terms) tend to use it than men. I would highly recommend that if your target audience is educated, young and female, then Instagram should be an integral part of your marketing plan to generate sales.

As I mentioned earlier, today’s consumers are also more opinionated and live in a country that is passing through one of the toughest economic phases of its history. However, opinionated also means that Pakistan is more polarised than ever before, especially as consumers are finding it difficult to stay afloat due to high inflation, unemployment and recession.

Marketers need to appreciate these challenges and counter them, by firstly making brands a unifier. They can do this by celebrating the culture that unites us as a nation. Some good examples are Cupshup, Gillette and Pampers. Cupshup’s communication is humorous, but it also appreciates the role of elders in the family in choosing suitable spouses and showing how as a brand it unites all generations. Gillette used Naseem Shah (a young cricketing star) and Waqar Younis (a cricket star of the past) to unite the nation. Pampers, by choosing the right celebrity, and who used her own baby in the communication, celebrated the mother-child relationship which is core to Pakistani culture. Secondly, by enabling consumers to make the right choice for themselves and their families. Lifebuoy did this with a wonderful insight. Its advertising highlighted how a father could save on his expenses by buying products that are preventive. In Lifebuoy’s case, it protects the family from medical bills, so that although Lifebuoy might be more expensive compared to other soaps, in the long run it is a better economic choice.

We may be living in hard times, but they offer exciting opportunities for marketers to learn and grow. There is a lot to learn about Pakistan’s young population and then translate that knowledge into new and more dynamic ways of marketing.

Noaman Asar is CEO, Oula.