It’s the same message. It’s the same medium and it is more or less the same method. Yet, it is the “mukhtalif” style that defines Pakistan advertising scene, and although celebrities are “mashhoor” for dominating the promotional space on the tube, the advertising industry there is far more “muhtaat” (read cautious) about the vandalising effect that celebrities could have on brands than India is.
It’s strange and unique at the same time how cultural differences define decisions. Take a simple instance, while Amitabh Bachchan and the Khans of India – Shah Rukh, Aamir, Saif, Salman, Zayed, Fardeen – practically rule every little space amid television programmes, news, views, etc, in Pakistan, the scenario is different.
More than movie-mania, it is clearly cricket that gets the adrenaline rushing, and thereby leads to good “celebrity rub-off”.
Asked on who makes the best brand ambassador, Soofia Ishaque, Creative Director, JWT Pakistan, said, “Cricketers first and foremost, then follow the filmstars. Theatre doesn’t really figure in this category.”
Almost all advertisers unanimously agree that it is Pakistani cricketers who are the best bet for brands. Dawood Zoeb, Media Planner, Orient McCann Erickson Pakistan, explained why cricketers had an edge over others. “Since films in Pakistan target the C and D classes, film celebrities have not been able to create a positive perception amongst the A and B classes. Even theatre is targeted at a very niche lower class segment. So there is little options than to go in for the cricketers,” he said.
So who are the “hot-saleable” faces in Pakistan? Advertisers believe that in cricket it is Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Akhthar, in films it is Reema and Shan, among TV artists it is Anwar Maqsood, Busha Ansari, Atiqa Odho, Samina Peerzada, who have earned tremendous respect across classes with their endorsements.
However, unlike India, it’s the pop stars who “rock the show” in Pakistan. “Music bands like Junoon (for Coke and Walls), and pop stars like Abrar (for Coke), Ali Zafar (for Pepsi), Strings (for Walls) have been used extensively,” said Zoeb.
Lubna Jehangir, Director, Publicis-Pakistan, pointed out that celebrity endorsements were not used as frequently as they were in India. “In our country, life of a celebrity is very short. Even the cricketers are risky because it is all performance-based and one bad performance has adverse effects on the brand,” she added.
Even clients have mixed views on whether to invest on a celebrity or not. “The clients have different views when it comes to celebs. They are preferred by big companies like Unilever, Pepsi, Coke and P&G, but not to that large an extent because celebrity profile in Pakistan is not as big as it is in India, nor do these companies spend that heavily on commercials. Hence, usually some local models are hired,” explained Zoeb.
Jehangir pointed out that the way one used a celebrity was very important in Pakistan. “Clients prefer to feature film and TV stars in TVCs as a “character” in the story line rather than the personality as a gestalt,” she said.
On the commercials where the celebrities did leave a mark, Zoeb said, “Shan in the ad for Mobilink and Reema in the Pepsi ads had a positive impact.” According to Jehangir, the ads that used celebrity power not just to “capture eyeballs” but move them to join a cause, included, Imran Khan’s endorsement for Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital and Atiqa Odhu’s positive power on Green Star, a brand promoting contraception.
However, there are also instances where the ‘vandalising’ effect of the celebrities has worked against the brand. Ishaque illustrates this with the example of Bank AlFalah. “The most vandalising effect was when pop star Haroon endorsed Bank AlFalah in a concept that revolved around cricket. Completely pointless and damaging,” she stressed.
Interestingly, as in India, stars come with a big “price tag” in Pakistan as well. The cost of using a celebrity falls in the range of Pakistani Rs 0.1 million to Rs 2.5 million. “Annual contracts with cricketers and bands like Junoon and Abrar cost up to Rs 10-Rs 15 million,” said Zoeb.
And yes, a word of caution for all Indian advertisers. The excessive use of Shah Rukh Khan and Big B is being noticed in Pakistan, too. In fact, the neighbours aren’t really envious of the Indian ‘pride’ and feel that this has just led to “mere dilution of the brand”. The advertising counterparts in Pakistan are at the same time aware of the limitations that the industry faces.
“Indian celebrity market is huge. Just cannot compare even if the ads are good, plus vast cultural differences play a vital role when it comes to projection of celebrities, especially women. It has to be in limits, “ he said.
In fact, asked if at all there were some positive points they would like to adopt from India, Zoeb very candidly said, “Discourage using celebrities in ads like the way Shah Rukh and Amitabh are being used for anything and everything.”
Meanwhile, for Jehangir, capturing humour is the positive learning. “The ability to give a humorous twist to a situation making the audience laugh is essential in advertising,” she pointed out.