Brand Wars and Advertising – Karachi

From Brooke Bond Supreme to Tapal Danedar, and from Sunsilk to Pantene….the journey into brand wars and cut-throat competition has always been a fascinating one to dig-up and analyze. That trend, with changing times and advanced media tools, has become far more effective in present day context if used appropriately and wisely. This post examines the latest example of brand war in our city and across the nation (PSO-Shell) and a brief “dip your toes in the water” look at the highly-complex, perplexing and conservative advertising scene in Pakistan. And yeah, before you jump onto the “our consumers are illiterate, old-fashioned, conservative, blah blah” theory, just set it aside, read the post and chew over it. It is important to give our customers the respect they never got and to realize they do not have time for advertising. They have time for other things, and we will need to become a part of that ‘other thing’ in order to get through to them without appearing as detractors. Anyways, coming back to the whole brand war….it is important to realize that advertising is not a zero-sum game, healthy tit-for-tat ads are all good and even encouraged, but they need to be just that …”healthy”. PSO-Shell war going on in our city and across the nation is not the perfect example of it, but a great lesson to be learnt.

As Ramadan begins to gather momentum, Karachiites are being bombarded with a plethora of ad campaigns. If you folks have seen the “88% of Shell users say they get more mileage out of Shell fuel” campaign (print media as well as forecourts) then this may help….. basically PSO has come out with a counter response telling people not to go for tall claims and lies. This is quite interesting, because it is not often that one sees such forms of guerilla marketing or such brand wars occuring in our city. The Lipton-Tetley tussle was another prime example. And we’ve seen enough cola-wars to know the extent to which brands can go. However, in the latest case between Shell and PSO, the truth of the matter is that Shell presented it sample size to the audience in the campaign and yet even then PSO could not restrain itself from such a shallow-informed response. AC Nielsen conducted a national survey comprising 435 respondents (anything over 385 random samples is considered a legitimate snapshot of the population size). Furthermore, PSO’s fuel, Green XL Premier has additized patented chemical blends from Afton Chemicals that give its fuel a cleaner set of properties (slightly environment-friendly). It is a pity that such ill-informed campaigns are executed by mass-marketeers who do not realize that these tactics are not strategic nor long-lived. The quality of Shell’s fuel is highly-monitored, it is put through special tests (which PSO as of this moment is not scientifically equipped to carry out) and Shell carries a global bank of knowledge, resources and expertise that allow it to mirror its product lines to top-grade international standards without losing out on the need to cater to the local market.

PSO has all the right in the world to come up with such an aggresive (not to mention fickle) ad campaign. And although it is the largest networked fuel-distributor nationally, in terms of both physical presence and revenues generated, the reality is that its mechanics, processes and posturing remain outdated. As PSO- basful as this whole thing sounds, the point of this post was to show the power of marketing and how brand wars are being fought in our very own city. Granted, that Shell is a client that I work on, but transparency, responsible advertising, and claim-legitimacy are fundamentals that can not be played with. Before launch an onslaught, one needs to be sure they are on sound-footing. PSO failed in this venture and ended up looking desperate in their print camapign targeting Shell. Make no mistake, Shell will respond but at its own discretion and within the boundaries of credibility and corporate responsibilities.

Advertising may seem to have come a long way in Pakistan, but it really hasn’t. Part of it is agency-oriented short-comings, i.e., lack of risk-taking initiatives, lack of client-specific persuasion, subservience to the client, poor account-planning, incomplete or loose understanding about marketing principles and so forth. But an even larger reason for the abysmal state of advertising in Pakistan lies with the clients themselves. Corporations, big and small, tend to under-estimate the intelligence of the common man in Pakistan. Villagers in remote interiors of Sindh and Punjab now have access to television and foreign channels, especially Indian channels, have somewhat attuned, educated and flexed the masses. They have infused a certain sense of sub-tolerance, key understanding and evocative imagination, along with redefining boundaries for routine-humor, to catapult the local consumer from lack of basic marketing awareness to understanding key attributes, functionalities, symbolism, imagineering tactics, and embedded humorism in ad campaigns. We as agencies, and our clients as the pay-masters and approvers, must come together to allow for our intelligentsia (the masses), whom we take for granted, to be exposed to ground-breaking and exciting integrated marketing communication campaigns. Campaigns that are built along the lines of well-defined brand vision, expressive brand essence, and larger than life branding ideas. Only then will our country, and our city (the nerve-center for all major marketing campaigns and corporate accounts) can compete with our local, regional and international counterparts.

1 Comment so far

  1. Teeth Maestro (unregistered) on October 8th, 2005 @ 3:41 am

    Good food for thought. Advertising wars are bound to take a turn for the worse, as the economy imporves the corporations will want to dig deeper into the pockets of the common man.

    It would also be interesting to analyze the mobile phone companies who have continued to bombard us with adverts that have now slowly psyched the common man into believeing cell phones as an essential part of survival.

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