Published in Sep-Oct 2022
For decades, Rooh Afza has relied on the health benefits it provides as its USP. The drink’s story dates to pre-partition India, and when the brand came to Pakistan, it had no rival and successfully captured a sizable market share, gaining a loyal customer base along the way.
Rooh Afza’s image soon became synonymous with Ramzan, mainly because Hamdard, the parent company, chose to position the drink as a healthy herbal blend that was ideal for iftar, and the corresponding advertising was infused with traditional and cultural values. Things began to change in the seventies and eighties with the advent of similar sherbets, such as Qarshi’s Jam-e-Shireen (Rooh Afza’s main competition) and those produced by Shezan and Naurus.
Forward to the 2020s and there are plenty of choices for consumers as far as sherbets and other drinks – carbonated or otherwise – go. Competing in this market now requires more than smart advertising and one of the popular routes taken to increase customer purchase is the introduction of product extensions (for example, 7UP’s recent Strawberry Lemonade).
As a result, in 2019, backed by research, Rooh Afza entered the carbonated drinks market with the introduction of Rooh Afza Go – a drink with the quintessential Rooh Afza flavour in a 250 millilitre can priced at Rs 70. To test the waters, the company initially opted for “a soft launch” and limited the product to select stores in metropolitan cities, PIA flights during Ramzan and international markets, including Afghanistan, Australia, Malaysia, South Africa, US and UK, where it fared well. However, despite these efforts, the new product remained lesser known in Pakistan as no major marketing initiatives were conducted.
According to Ahsan Baig, Brand Manager (Beverages and Medicaments), Hamdard Pakistan, although Rooh Afza Go did well internationally, market penetration was low in Pakistan as not many people knew about the brand’s existence. This, he says, was because Hamdard did not conduct any major marketing initiatives in Pakistan, choosing to play the “wait and see game” before going full speed ahead with the brand’s launch, which was planned for 2020. However, these plans were stalled due to Covid-19 and it was not until June 2022 that an advertising campaign was rolled out to introduce Rooh Afza Go in earnest. The campaign, titled ‘Red is the New Go’, targets young consumers aged between 15 and 35 years across all SECs.
“This age group is trendy, has a higher proclivity towards experiencing new things and gravitates towards fizzy drinks,” explains Baig.
The current campaign has been rolled out via a 360-degree integrated campaign on TV, print, outdoor, BTL and digital. The agency behind the campaign is Blitz Advertising, which honed the fact that young consumers are always on the go. The decision to use the colour red was made because “red is associated with passion, and the target audience is passionate about experiencing life on the go.” Of course, the fact that Rooh Afza syrup is red no doubt played a part in this decision.
Although Hamdard is all set to enter the heavily saturated carbonated drinks market, it is too early to assess the success of the brand. However, Baig and his team maintain that the campaign has resulted in a “phenomenal response” and – although this may have to do with initial product testing and impulse buying – sales are increasing.
Aurora spoke to several people who tried the new drink and the responses were mixed. For example, a 16-year-old college student states that “I cannot imagine Rooh Afza in the form of a carbonated drink. I would rather drink something else.” On the other hand, a 24-year-old banker says, “I tried the product and it tastes good. If you like Rooh Afza sharbat, you will like Rooh Afza Go.”
Given the above, it seems that Hamdard faces two major challenges. Firstly, to break through the mindset of young, trendy consumers, who may not normally consider the drink, except during Ramzan, and secondly, to compete with a raft of big players in the carbonated drinks market, not to mention other packaged drinks such as juices and energy drinks.
However, Baig is confident of success. “The positioning of Rooh Afza Go ensures that it does not compete with big players in the carbonated drinks market as it is not positioned as a drink that complements meals as they do. Instead, we are positioning it as a refreshing drink to curb one’s thirst, any time of the day, even when you are on the go, as it is a revitalising summer drink at an affordable price.” Added to this is the fact that Rooh Afza has impressive brand equity and legacy and therefore Baig believes that Rooh Afza Go will appeal to its target audiences who enjoy new experiences.
Hamdard is not limiting its availability to retail points such as supermarkets and kiryana stores across the country (which constitute 90% of their existing distribution points); they are also ensuring the drink has a presence in educational institutions, cafes, restaurants and hospitals (they make up the remaining 10% of the product’s distribution points).
Given the brand team’s efforts and passion for the brand, and with more BTL and ATL plans in the offing, the chances are that Rooh Afza Go may literally go places.