In the ferociously competitive world of marketing, behind the catchy jingles, memorable slogans and captivating billboards, lies a tale of fierce competition. A constant strategic game plan is in play that defines the direction brands will take to meander into the hearts of their consumers in their relentless pursuit of share of mind and brand loyalty.
From the iconic rivalry between global beverage giants Pepsi and Coca-Cola to Pakistan’s very own hilarious head-to-head in the telecom sector between Jazz (formerly Mobilink) and Ufone, or the iconic ‘Chai Wars’ that brought on a change in the tea industry, such battles have been a catalyst in the evolution of the advertising industry.
This article will walk you through notable brand advertising wars that unfolded in Pakistan in the span of the last 25 years. From cheeky one-liners to clever visuals, it explores the strategies employed by brands to gain their competitive edge.
Pakistan’s telecom sector has been known to offer up some funny advertisements, Ufone being the leader in this regard. In 2015, Jazz sparked controversy with a print ad of Nargis Fakhri wearing a long-sleeved red dress, lying down, with a smartphone in one hand, and the other in her hair. While social media spewed hate on this concept, Ufone decided to spin the narrative and presented a similar print ad for its mobile phones, but instead of a gorgeous female actress, they showcased Faisal Qureshi in a shalwar kameez and topi in the same pose. This unique take was the talk of the nation all over social media.
Another example is Zong taking a swing at Jazz when promoting their 4G data speed. The visual showed Zong represented by a green Lamborghini and Jazz by an old red foxy whose number plate read ‘JZ3G’. Simple and subtle, yet obvious and impactful. Not wanting to be left behind, Telenor put up a billboard promoting their 4G network between two billboards promoting Jazz and Zong, with the line ’Na daein, na baien, Telenor 4G per aaein (not left nor right, choose Telenor 4G)’.
Fast food moguls, KFC and McDonald’s have also been known to poke fun at each other. KFC caught everyone’s attention when they placed a billboard about their ‘finger lickin’ good’ chicken on top of a McDonald’s billboard in Karachi. Recently, McDonald’s introduced Chicken Tenders (essentially boneless chicken strips, an item KFC is known for). KFC responded by rolling out a campaign stating ‘Tumse na ho payega’ (you won’t be able to do it) #whofrieditbest. This playful competition has kept the battle for market leadership engaging.
Speaking of the fight for market share, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have had the most iconic battle at a global level. Stepping outside the expected, Coca-Cola took on Pakistan’s favourite beverage – not Pepsi but tea. Their campaign ‘Zaalima Chai nahi Coca-Cola pila doh’ (Oh cruel one, I don’t want tea, give me Coca-Cola) was considered a failed attempt at trying to change our traditional tea-drinking culture. After a series of ads on this theme, Lipton (market leader at the time) released a single response that went: ’Pakistanis love chai, ‘zaalima’ nice try.’ While the response was not as creatively executed as it could have been, this nonchalant response was proof that Lipton, and by extension the tea industry, were not bothered by this coup attempt.
That brings us to the most intense Pakistani brand war – possibly the biggest battle of the brands – the ‘Chai Wars’ between Lipton and Tapal. It began when Tapal launched its ‘strong challenge’ in 2016, stating that it was Pakistan’s No. 1 tea brand with the strongest taste. Lipton quickly responded with celebrities Maya Ali, Ayesha Khan and Hamza Ali Abbasi stating ‘Try Lipton Aik Baar Bhool Jaogay Danedaar,’ with the added challenge ‘Pasand na aaye tou paisay wapis’ (If you don’t like it, get your money back). This battle shook up the tea industry with loyal tea drinkers supporting their favourite brand.
This battle received so much hype that several other brands jumped on the bandwagon by using Lipton and Tapal’s brand elements (the logo colours) and taglines to join the fun, showcasing Lipton as a yellow cup and Tapal as a red one. Nestlé EveryDay’s ad played on the taglines stating ’Chai lajawab ho ya danedaar only Nestlé EveryDay makes it khaas’. Interwood, Pakistan’s leading furniture brand released an ad that said: ‘Chai jo bhi ho, rakhi tou hamari table pey jaati hai’ (no matter which brand of tea you choose, you will be putting the cup on our table) while snack brand, CupKake released an ad that went ‘Danedar chai ka lajawab saath.’
These are just a handful of prominent examples of brands that benefited from this brand war. Apart from the temporary buzz, what benefits do brands gain from these wars? Well, it certainly helps them stay relevant and the increase in consumer engagement may have also led to an increase in Customer Lifetime Value (CLV).
Considering these benefits, it seems brand wars (big or small) are here to stay – so the question is, what factors should brands avoid strategically? Given that copyright and privacy laws in Pakistan have been strengthened over the years, personal attacks should be avoided to ensure there are no ethical or legal violations. Consumers are smart and brands should avoid giving out incorrect information – false claims about the product/service will be the end of the brand. Consumers also have a lot more choice and brands should not ignore customer feedback or take the focus away from their product quality.
This said, it’s evident that advertising wars underscore the importance of creativity and strategic thinking in the pursuit of consumer loyalty. While battlegrounds shift and adversaries evolve, an enduring truth remains. Advertising wars mirror the dynamic, competitive spirit of the marketing world. The next chapter in Pakistan’s advertising story is uncertain, but what is clear is that these wars will persist, shaping the industry and influencing the choices of millions.
Ayesha Aman is a media planner at Publicis Groupe.