The Super Six

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(Published in Aurora Magazine, March-April, 2009)

Marylou Andrew and Jahanzaib Haque profile six iconic brands that personify the heart and soul of local brand culture.


When it comes to looking beyond manufacturing cloth and readymade clothes, Pakistan has one truly iconic brand which has stood the test of time.

Established in 1975, Bonanza is a hallmark of success today. Forty five outlets spread across the country provide customers with 5,000 new items a year, ranging from sweaters to shirts, shalwar suits and more.

“My uncle, Haji Haroon must be given the credit for this,” says Hanif Bilwani, Director, Bonanza.

“He was extremely well travelled and he foresaw that custom made tailoring would become a thing of the past as it could not offer the quality and volume required for mass sales, even in Pakistan.”

The family enterprise, which has spanned five generations, began producing woollen sweaters in 1975, followed by shirts in 1978 and finally shalwar suits in 1991. Each stage of development was a journey into the unknown as few had ventured into production on the scale Bonanza aimed for.

“You could say Oxford, Cambridge and Aladin are Bonanza’s competitors, but our volumes and range are so vast that no one can compare with us. I don’t think there is anyone who comes in at even number two or three in terms of volume or sales,” says Bilwani.

However, being number one in such an under developed industry brings its share of challenges. On the production side, Bonanza has had to invest massively in training due to the lack of skilled labour. Additionally, Pakistan falls short when it comes to producing the kind of raw material necessary for high quality shirts and sweaters, forcing Bonanza to import wool and cloth from China, New Zealand and Thailand.

According to Bilwani, no compromise is made in this regard as Bonanza’s key selling point is its quality.

“This is an industry which requires immense research and high quality production, because unlike customers abroad, people in Pakistan will wear a shirt for up to five years, so our product has to be developed and processed to meet such requirements.”

By imposing such standards, Bonanza has captured and consolidated its position to the extent that even the prevailing recession has had little impact on sales.

“Our volumes have not really taken a hit compared to last year.” says Bilwani. “However, our target of having 100 stores by 2010 will take a couple of years more to achieve.”

Bilwani feels the rising tide of fashion consciousness in Pakistan bodes well for the future. The brand is set to tap into new segments of the market now flooded with a wealth of fashion updates passed on through the expanding local media.

Dawn Bread

For most people in Pakistan, the completeness of their morning rests with the presence of Dawn Bread on their breakfast tables.

Yet this pioneering product in the branded bread category is only 29 years old, having started life in Karachi in 1981. Prior to this, the bread needs of the Pakistani population were serviced by bakeries. However, Dawn Bread caught on quickly and became renowned for its freshness, quality and taste.

This success was to a large extent due to the fact that the company established several manufacturing plants across the country throughout the 1980s. With no branded competition in the first five to six years of its existence, Dawn Bread flourished and became a household name. Then came brands such as Bake Parlour, Vita and Wonder, but by then Dawn Bread had already made such an impression that its stronghold continued.

Shakeel Azhar, GM Marketing and Sales, Dawn Foods, says that although his brand has 35 to 40% of the consolidated market share for bread (branded and unbranded), the competition is tough, with more than 35 bread brands selling at the moment. The problem, he explains, is the fact that there are no entry barriers in this category.

“People want to make a fast buck so they decide to make bread, thinking they will bake one night and sell the next day. What they do not realise is the fact that they will have to sustain the losses from the leftovers every day.”

And the losses can be steep indeed, because freshness has become even more crucial to the existence of a bread brand thanks to all the competition.

While freshness is of extreme importance, Dawn Foods has also paid close attention to changing consumer lifestyles in order to tailor its product range accordingly. As Pakistanis latched onto the global health kick, the company launched a high fibre brown bread, and when the fast food restaurant trend grew, it introduced burger buns.

In 2001, Dawn Foods ventured into frozen foods. This also marked the company’s initiation into the export market with the launch of rogni nans, kulchas, etc., which are especially produced for Europe, the UK, the US and the UAE.

Although the competition remains tough, Dawn Foods is unlikely to lose share anytime soon, thanks to its reputation for freshness and its vast array of products.

HBL (Habib Bank Limited)

As commercial banks go, HBL is a true icon with a long string of ‘firsts’ to its credit. For starters, Habib Bank Limited was Pakistan’s first commercial bank, established in 1947 on the eve of Pakistan’s independence by the Habibs, a family of entrepreneurs.

Mr Jinnah was the bank’s first account holder.

Formed as a private commercial bank, HBL had a successful run in the 50s and 60s and became known as a trustworthy institution. Things started changing in 1974 with the nationalisation of private banks, although the initial years after nationalisation were relatively good for the bank, as it grew its local and international branch network.

In the last decade of its nationalised period, however, the administrative and financial pressures that were plaguing Habib Bank became apparent and it lost its image as a progressive banking institution.

While Habib Bank was struggling in the early 90s, the banking sector was changing phenomenally, as nationalisation was reversing and a growing number of local banks began to introduce new products and services. Added to this, foreign banks also entered the fray.

Finally, in 2002, the government initiated the denationalisation process for Habib Bank and completed it in 2004, making it one of the last commercial banks to be privatised. This late date meant that Habib Bank had to play serious catch up with banks such as MCB (Muslim Commercial Bank) and UBL (United Bank Limited) which had a head start of eight and six years respectively.

Working quickly, Habib Bank invested money in infrastructure development and the refurbishment of its branches and in 2007, a rebrand initiative was launched under which Habib Bank was presented to the public as the new HBL.

Aly Mustansir, Head, Marketing and Brand Management, HBL explains why the acronym was chosen as the brand name (the bank still trades under the name Habib Bank).

“We wanted to be seen as a progressive brand and to end the confusion that had been created because of the other banks in this market which have the name ‘Habib’.”

The rebranding initiative was launched with a campaign featuring Pakistani test cricketers such as Shahid Afridi and Younus Khan (both of whom play on HBL’s squad). This was followed by a campaign showing the reach and presence of the bank across the length and breadth of Pakistan.

By the end of 2008 HBL had become a serious contender in the Pakistani banking sector. With a network of 1,470 branches nationwide, 50 branches in the international market, an exhaustive investment banking portfolio, credit cards, the largest base of debit card holders and a variety of consumer financing and deposit options, HBL had effectively closed the gap between itself and the competition.


Igloo emerged in the ice cream market in the 70s as a south-based regional competitor against Polka, the larger national brand at that time. Both brands dominated the market throughout the 80s and into the early 90s, facing little competition from global brands, which remained minor players with minimal distribution networks.

This era saw the rise of many of Igloo’s more memorable products, including King Cone and Choc Ice. However, the dynamics of the market changed in 1995, when Unilever introduced Wall’s and bought out Polka in an aggressive bid to weed out competition.

With Pakistan’s north completely in the hands of Wall’s, Igloo fought to maintain its share of the market in the south, taking advantage of the void which followed the exit of their decades-old competitor.

“We benefited from the demise of Polka”, says Fareed Tharani, Brand Manager at Igloo.

In order to remain competitive against a multinational pursuing a ‘high investment, high return’ strategy, Igloo chose to fight Wall’s by focusing on product development and innovation, particularly with regard to local flavour, as in the case of amrud (guava) flavoured ice cream, and the lychee lolly.

In this regard, Tharani believes Igloo as a local brand had the additional advantage of being able to respond to the market far quicker than its multinational competition:

“We don’t have a huge structure for approvals. We can take overnight decisions without facing the kind of red tape involved in multinational corporations.”

Through this process of innovation, Igloo has maintained a steady growth rate over the years. Today the brand holds over 30% of the market in Pakistan’s south; a region where Tharani believes the battle for expansion will continue.

“There is no problem with customer demand and the market is not even close to its saturation point.”


Pakistan’s national carrier had fairly humble beginnings when it was launched in 1946 by industrialist M.A. Ispahani as Orient Airways. The airline was the brainchild of

Mr Jinnah, who had foreseen the need to transport people between East and West Pakistan. With just four aircraft in its fleet, the fledgling airline began operations in June 1947 and played a key role in providing transportation and relief assistance to the citizens of the newly formed country from August 1947 onwards.

By 1950 the fleet of the new airline increased rapidly and it was flying Pakistanis to local destinations as well as to Delhi and Calcutta. In 1955, the Government of Pakistan decided to form a state-owned airline and Orient Airways was merged with it in order to create Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) on March 11th, 1955.

The next 30 years were golden for PIA, as it introduced international destinations to its roster, increased the size of its fleet, underwent management changes, broke records (such as the fastest flight from London to Karachi) and even provided extreme in-flight glamour with its air hostesses wearing uniforms designed by French fashion icon, Pierre Cardin.

The changes occurring within PIA were obvious to its passengers mainly due to the changes in its livery. In the 50s it was a Pakistani flag on the tail and dual green stripe across the plane divided by a thin white line as well as a bold green ‘Pakistan International’ on the fuselage. In the 60s, the font was italicised and ‘PIA’ was painted in white on the green tail with rows of white starts above and below the letters. The flag was moved to the fuselage.

In the 70s, when the famous uniforms by Cardin were on show inside the aircraft, the livery (designed by London designers Negus and Negus) was green, white and gold with the PIA initials displayed in gold on the fuselage. This was further updated and three coloured stripes were incorporated and the text on the fuselage read a big, bold ‘Pakistan’. The 90s and 2000s saw further changes in the livery, some of them not appreciated by passengers before PIA finally settled for motifs from the four provinces, designed by London designers, Landor Associates.

In spite of its changing livery, however, the last two decades have not been good ones for PIA with the airline showing continuous losses. Captain Mohammad Aijaz Haroon, Managing Director, PIA says that this was mainly due to a management team which was chosen by the government and because of poor policies and practices.

Haroon believes that for things to turn around at PIA, the government not only needs to pump money into the airline but also change its open skies policy which allows other airlines unlimited access to northern Pakistan.

But has any of the negative publicity that PIA often gets hurt its brand image? Haroon doesn’t think so.

“Whether we are making profits or losses, our brand image is fantastic. When something happens on PIA, good or bad, it instantly becomes a news story and people talk about it. I believe people take this kind of interest in PIA because they truly consider it to be their national airline.”

The DAWN Media Group

The birth of the nation’s first newspaper – DAWN – took place on August 14th, 1947 in line with Mr Jinnah’s vision that the new nation should have its own newspaper.

Living up to the legacy of Mr Jinnah’s ideals has been no easy task, but since its inception, DAWN has come to be trusted by its readers for its credibility, leading to the widespread belief that if a piece of news has been reported in DAWN, it is definitely true.

The responsibility for creating this image is in no small part due to the efforts of the management and the successive editors of the newspaper. While the management has consistently adhered to a policy of non-interference in editorial matters, the editors have been true to it.

Over the years, DAWN has constantly innovated but with caution, knowing full well that reckless innovation can seriously damage brands. Thus, the newspaper has three separate metropolitan editions for Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, it has three magazines which are considered leaders in their respective fields; Herald (current affairs), Spider (IT) and Aurora (advertising).

This healthy approach towards innovation has been carried forward in the company’s HR practices which respect women, young people and minorities, as well as its approach towards technical systems such as printing.

Connecting with audiences has been a constant endeavour so the newspaper has several special exhibitions and conferences every year to benefit different types of readers. There is All About Lifestyles for general consumers; DAWN Education Expo for students and fresh grads; DAWN in Education National Spelling Bee for children and teenagers and a whole host of other events.

DAWN has also been committed to building on Mr Jinnah’s ideals to serve the people of Pakistan and has a strong inclination towards corporate social responsibility. In the wake of the October 2005 earthquake, DAWNRelief was set up to provide relief and rehabilitation to the affectees and the work continues.

As the media environment changes and new media become more important, DAWN has kept abreast. City FM89 is the group’s foray into FM radio and provides music from around the world to Pakistani listeners, DawnNews, Pakistan’s first English-language news channel already stands out for its credibility among the sea of news channels from other media groups.

The DAWN Media Group (as it is now formally known) recently took its approach towards innovation a step further, when it launched Pakistan’s first news portal on the internet (it was also the first to launch a news website in 1996).


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