Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

“Baby, You Can Drive My Car – Yes, I’m Gonna Be a Star”

The confluence of new-age consumers and influencers is creating a culture of off-the-wall aspirations, writes Yawar Iqbal.
Published 03 Jul, 2024 11:11am

Who is influencing us to buy a four to five million rupee Lamborghini in Pakistan, a country that is experiencing a 25% rate of inflation? And how is it that, despite the economic situation, when TikToker Ducky Bhai posts his Audi e-Tron GD purchase, everyone on the platform aspires to the same 50 million rupee car?

But then, perhaps this is not that surprising, as according to PakWheels, luxury automobile sales have doubled in Pakistan post-Covid. Similarly, according to a car rental service, the demand among people who want to have their baarats driven in Mercedes’ latest model is much higher than it was five years ago. And let’s not forget that a quick trip to DHA Raya in Lahore will allow us to witness tons of TikTokers posing with a Ferrari that belongs to someone else, but that one picture with the car will guarantee them maximum likes and views on social media.

It is no different with textiles. Every day, we see new luxury lawn brands sprouting, resulting in whopping earnings of $5.81 billion for the sector in 2024. Again, this is not unexpected, given that the average ‘designer’ luxury lawn starts at Rs 16,900 and an average Hussain Rehar unstitched festive outfit costs Rs 33,000.

On a daily basis, people are making choices that exceed their pocket sizes and taking pains to do so. For example, a trip to Lahore’s Ichra Bazaar will help understand the craze for ‘designer’ luxury lawn outfits, as almost every vendor there will have a replica of Hussain Rehar’s creations (they are not cheap, but much more affordable than the originals), not to mention hundreds of Insta and Facebook pages selling designer knockoffs for a fraction of the price. In a country where the average salary is in the Rs 80,000 range, how can people afford such luxury items? Maybe the disparity between the super-rich and the poor is so stark that only the top three percentiles can indulge in handwoven designer shirts (like the ones worn by Oscar winner Riz Ahmed).

Somehow, someone is dictating and influencing our purchase decisions for stuff that we clearly can’t afford. And that someone is a huge base of influencers, be they on Instagram or TikTok. For example, a single Instagram story by influencer Sona Rafiq flaunting a bag or a TikTok reel from Jannat Mirza applying cosmetics immediately compels people to loosen their purse strings.

Welcome to the world of luxury lifestyle influencers, both macro and micro. The ones with millions of followers and the ones with a hold over mere thousands. They all count equally and because of them, brands are counting hard cash. They cater to the new-age consumer who is evolved and well-informed and their purchase decisions are not entirely dependent on the quality of the products (as was the case 10 years ago and seen as a key brand benefit).

Today, it is about ‘gramability’, the brand story on social media, how the brand appears on Instagram and TikTok and which influencers are using it (not necessarily celebrities).

As a result, brands no longer spend money curating content that centres only on their product attributes; instead, they are evoking desire for their products through lifestyle influencers and their stories. And they are doing so because it is all about reels and cultivating curiosity and euphoria among their target audiences. In fact, almost all leading global brands have a place on apps such as TikTok, where only user-generated content can be viewed and creators have the freedom to talk about anything in any way they want to. Thanks to these apps and their content creators, the entire beauty industry has been transformed. For example, brands like Huda Beauty (now a $560 million empire) and Fenty, along with tons of other brands, including local ones such as HER Beauty and Conatural. They all use TikTok and Instagram to create content that engages consumers via a vertical format and relatable, aspirational ‘gram worthy’ content.

In a similar vein, with Rastah, Pakistan has finally got its own luxury streetwear brand, and every young person wants to be seen and photographed in a solid-colour Rastah sweatshirt or jacket, costing $900. In a country where craft is a century-old embedded tradition and almost every bazaar has a hand embroidery wala bhaia and a tailor, how has Rastah managed to sell the tradition of crafting clothes as a novelty item? Well, we should learn from Zain Ahmad, co-Founder and creative director of the brand.

Ahmad realised that the consumer landscape was changing and bet on the desire among people to wear a locally grown luxury streetwear brand with a poetic Urdu name and an Urdu calligraphed logo. With this in mind, he placed his clothing on cool Insta-savvy kids, making the brand an instant success and positioning it as a premier South Asian contemporary label that aims to reinterpret South Asian heritage and artisanship. The brand, launched in 2018, inspired other brands like Nukta, Raaye or Demo to adopt a similar positioning. These brands are selling their new and cool local craft-driven clothes via social media stars, from Justin Bieber and Disha Patani to Ayeza Khan and Dolly TikTok.

Another example is the local clothing brand AOMI, which uses Indian celebrities such as Vijay Verma and Sobhita Dhulipala and Arab content creators such as The Confused Arab. These influencers have turned the brand into a mainstream luxury contender in less than a year, retailing jackets at Rs 300,000. Or take the high-end restaurant Izakaya in Karachi, which regularly invites fashion and lifestyle influencers to dine at the premises (for free, of course) and in turn generates great PR with a single Instagram story. An average meal at Izakaya ranges between Rs 20,000 and 30,000 per person and people are willing to spend that kind of money to be part of the cool group. According to a regular of the restaurant, “You pay for the Izakaya experience. To be seen with the right crowd, these influencers generate hype overnight.”

Ultimately, everything can be sold as long as you have a great story, the right format and (crucially) the right person endorsing it – without making it sound or look like an advertisement. Today, contemporary luxury brands in Pakistan only engage with influencer-generated content and clearly, this is working for them. From luxury real estate to couture and travel, brands are on a constant hunt for people who will help them justify their high price tags through creative storytelling.

Consumers have changed and so have the traditional ways of engaging them. However, what remains intact is the power of a good idea and a story. The one that is not told by the brand but by its users, who happen to have millions of followers. May we all find the right story and the right influencers who will help us sell more of our products.

Syed Yawar Iqbal is a multi-disciplinary creative consultant.