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The View from Pakistan

The journey from reel to real | Tyrone Tellis

Issue 37 | December 2015

Far from the images in the news, Pakistan is no rural backwater, it is a mix of rural, urban and, to be honest, myriad other classifications. The affluent in cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad are familiar with designer brands both local and global, speak English fluently, download all the latest TV series like 'Suits', 'Breaking Bad', 'Game of Thrones' etc. The same cities also will have a portion of their inhabitants struggling to have a meal a day. Extremes aside, most of Pakistan is benefiting equally from the rise of the internet, the great leveller (so we are led to believe).

The digital arena has been used for social reform, politics, entertainment, business, self-expression and much more. The only way for the usage of social and digital media is up. E-commerce has grown rapidly and will continue to grow, mobile payments also are forecasted to increase. The government too is well aware of the need to use SMS, email and online services to educate the populace.

The only ones who seem to be dragging their feet on digital are the marketers. Brands and agencies are cautiously venturing into the area of social media. There has been an exponential growth in the number of digital agencies in the country. From one-room hotshops to fully fledged globally-recognized names, all are present in the market. Still, for most marketing purposes, digital means social and social means one thing and one thing alone, Facebook.

Given this climate, the integrated cross-platform work we admire around the world or even across the border in India, is lacking in Pakistan. However a change is occurring. Slowly and painstakingly, the marketing and advertising industry is moving forward pushed by consumers. I call this transformation the journey from reel advertising to real advertising. For years on end, we've been exposed to TV and print ads that showcase perfect people - housewives especially, expertly coiffured, immaculately dressed. Very few local brands or even MNCs in the country have been courageous enough to use the lower classes as a target audience. Everyone and anyone seems to be wanting to talk to the middle class, the safe segment.

This state of mind has caused Pakistan to churn out aspirational ads not inspirational ones. The modus operandi in the market has been to employ celebs - actors, singers, cricketers – or to pen a catchy jingle or hire a fancy director. Or do all three. We have been forced to gaze in sadness at the legendary Pakistan International Airlines ads of the 60s and 70s and dream of what might have been. 

Fortunately some campaigns have been created in the recent past that give us hope for the future. Here are a few of them that caught my attention. 

Brooke Bond Supreme - Apnapan Meme Generator 

This is a very pertinent example of a local brand that has got it right on Facebook. The brand, which has a rich heritage in Pakistan, has made a name for itself with its classic platform of Apnapan (‘togetherness’). To translate this amazing platform to Facebook, the brand’s digital agency and brand team created the Apnapan meme generator. In a simple process fans are asked to create their own ideas about what Apnapan is. To put it down in sophisticated terms, Brooke Bond is obtaining User Generated Content. To put it more simply, they are translating the brand message to social media and motivating fans to be co-creators by offering prizes for the most popular meme. 

The brand has also expanded the platform of Apnapan for the recently concluded Independence Day celebrations in August with Apnapan for Pakistan - Togetherness for Pakistan. The platform is simple and derives from the brand’s positioning and message. 

Easypaisa TVC 

Easy Paisa is the pioneer brand for mobile payments in Pakistan and has enjoyed tremendous success since it launched in 2009. At present there are several mobile payment players in the market competing for the consumer’s wallet. Most of the uptake of the service is in the rural areas and in a beautiful TVC, released in August this year, the brand reinforced its position as number one, reminding the nation that Easypaisa alone had the widest network for m-payments. The idea for the commercial was simple. A woman crosses a old wooden bridge over a river in a village in the north of the country, she goes to the shop to collect the remittance sent by her son. The shopkeeper says he has not received it. The shopkeeper apparently didn’t use Easypaisa so the money hasn’t arrived. As the old woman turns away, a neighbour standing at the shop gallantly offers to give her the money she needs, Rs. 1,000, pretending the money from her son actually arrived. She goes off to buy her medicine. The ad then shifts to shots of different people across the various terrains of Pakistan enjoying happiness because of Easypaisa. 

An effective ad that highlights one of our national traits, hospitality. The mass media campaign was also supported with social media testimonials and stories. This ad was a welcome change from the trend of shooting ads in Thailand etc. 

Yes it is obvious change is afoot. Kenwood who had created a buzz in 2014 by trying to sell home appliances using the relationships between husband and wives, in 2015 created funny ads for its Homage inverters. The ads were humorous testimonials of people who had not bought Homage and opted for a cheap UPS. A welcome shift from the functional messages used by the home appliances industry. 

Pakistani marketing is taking small steps. We’re embracing real advertising at last, accepting the growing need to move away from playing safe. Exposed to global marketing and advertising via the internet, the local consumer is demanding better advertising and marketing. Digital is shaping the consumer of the future, forcing marketers to rethink their strategy and tactics. 

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