Oil in a time of recession

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

By Jahanzaib Haque

With the full weight of the economic recession bearing down on Pakistan, most companies are running for cover and slashing their advertising budgets. The exceptions to this trend are the oil marketing companies which have continued to up the marketing ante this year.

The resident giants, PSO, Shell and Caltex along with relative newcomer Total have spent 1.5 billion rupees on advertising over the last five years, of which 425.7 million rupees was spent in 2008 alone.

Currently, PSO is putting the focus on projecting the company as “more than just a petrol pump”, via a print-exclusive corporate campaign. This effort follows after a year of rollercoaster oil prices and economic turmoil in Pakistan, which garnered a negative image for oil companies in the minds of the public.

Amir Abbasi, Manager Corporate Communications at PSO says the ongoing campaign became a necessity in light of the fact that the company was making huge contributions to the economy in multiple sectors, but such stories were not part of consumer perception when they thought about PSO. “We fuel aviation; we fuel the railways, power plants and more, so we really felt that PSO’s true face needed to be shown,” says Abbasi.

He adds that for PSO, “capturing market share is not a problem as we hold 70.6% of the overall market. Establishing a soft image for the company is our one line objective.”

As such, PSO’s first-ever image building campaign has highlighted the company’s role in industries quite outside the realm of the petrol station.

“When you talk about oil, you are talking about a product that affects everything”, says Hassan Ansari, Executive Director at Argus, the ad agency responsible for the campaign.

“PSO chose five general areas of focus, with the objective of getting people to make the connection with the company. I think it has worked, because when you see an aircraft and PSO, you have to think about what the relation is.”

In seeming tandem, Shell launched one of its largest 360 degree campaigns in January this year. The ubiquitous message of ‘I trust Shell’ is aimed at addressing the company’s track record with regard to the core issues consumers hold against oil companies. Shell’s localised research identified trouble areas related directly to the forecourt of the fuel industry, i.e. the petrol pump.

As Rehanul Haque, Marketing Manager at Shell explains:

“We tracked consumer preferences and views over the last year and found that there is a lack of trust on the part of consumers with regards to the oil companies in general, in terms of the quality and quantity of fuel provided at the pumps and the service at the stations.”

Shell’s research also indicated that consumers found Shell to be relatively trustworthy with regards to these key qualities, and as such, the campaign was built to highlight this finding.

“Any global brand needs to plug its value to the customer, and this is what this campaign is about” says Haque.

“We are highlighting the fact that our customers have actually said that they trust us.”

Running alongside messages of ‘I Trust Shell’ is the equally large scale ‘cut car’ campaign, promoting Shell’s premium motor oil brand, Shell Helix.

Launched in November 2008, this communication is part of a worldwide campaign that has also been developed around Shell’s extensive consumer research conducted on a global level.

Amjad Shahabuddin, Cluster Marketing Manager at Shell says the studies revealed that all consumers who buy motor oil do so in the hope that it will be effective in keeping their car engine clean. To address this issue practically (and with maximum visual impact), Shell displayed the sliced insides of a rally car test driven with Shell Helix.

Not to be outdone by Shell, Caltex has been running its largest-ever local campaign for its premium lubricant brand, Havoline and its new motorcycle oil – both undertaken on a global initiative.

While inside sources reveal that Shell holds a larger market share than Caltex in the branded lubricant market, sales of Havoline motor oil are being driven on a, sell less, earn more strategy.

As such, Caltex is the price leader in lubricants, with Havoline and its diesel engine oil brand, Dello, priced slightly higher than other oils in the market. However, given that motor oil is a product which is not purchased often, consumers may be ready to pay a little extra per month for a lubricant they feel will last longer and improve the overall driving experience.

Unlike PSO and Shell, Caltex has concentrated all its efforts on promoting its products and not on addressing public perceptions regarding oil companies.

Taimur Tajik, Creative Manager at Spectrum Communications explains that “Caltex projects its corporate image through developing its brands by running year-long campaigns. There is little you can do to make a company look better when fuel prices are fluctuating.”

Despite their differences and ongoing battles on multiple fronts, at the end of the day PSO, Shell and Caltex are all directly tied to the Pakistan government, which is responsible for setting oil prices in the country. The game of profit and loss, consumer perception and even the viability of marketing oil in Pakistan is, therefore, one in which the oil marketing companies first look to the government, before formulating any strategy.


Greening the brew

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

By Jahanzaib Haque

Tea has never been an indigenous product of Pakistan, but it is so deeply rooted in our culture that most of us would declare it the country’s national drink without a second thought.

This tenacious hot brew attained permanent shelf life in the hearts and minds of the nation ever since it was introduced by the British during the colonial era, and now as the West’s increasing preoccupation with health and health-related products permeates our media, the spotlight has fallen on black tea’s counterpart.

Green tea is the new black for those living up to the global health kick, and local market giants, Tapal and Lipton have both opted to capitalise on this trend.

As a product, green tea has had a long history and presence in Pakistan, though at a scale which has largely been overshadowed by black tea. While black tea consumption stood at an astounding 170,000 tonnes last year, the consumption of green tea was a mere 500 tonnes.

This tiny market is segmented into those who prefer loose, unbranded green tea (popular year-round in Balochistan, NWFP and further north) and those who prefer the more upmarket branded green tea, with sales restricted to the larger urban centres and towns across the country. This branded segment of the market constituted only 200 to 225 tonnes last year, with a majority of sales taking place in winter, as green tea’s consumption is currently tied directly to seasonal shifts.

Tapal was the first to enter this small-scale market in 2000, and is currently the market leader with a 65% share in the branded green tea market. Having been the first to launch green tea in teabags, the company also explored multiple flavours to form its current line of elaichi, lemon and jasmine flavoured green tea, available under the new, ‘Shades of Green’ banner.

Following a similar strategy, Unilever has consolidated its green tea line under its Lipton ‘Clear Green’ brand, which includes its original pure flavour alongside three newly launched flavours – Jasmine, Lemon and Mint.

Tapal launched its 360-degree campaign on January 11th with the release of print ads, TVCs, radio spots, outdoor promotion, BTL activities, text messaging and PR efforts. In contrast, Lipton opted to launch its campaign in distinct phases, beginning the retail process in the first week of January, and then releasing its mainstream TVC commercial and print ads a few days after Tapal.

While Lipton’s campaign is also a big budget 360-degree effort, ranging from bus shelter branding to branded health programmes, Tapal’s campaign did gain first mover advantage due to the launch of their TVC and print ads at an earlier date. The scale of both campaigns suggests large profits are at stake, but with green tea consumption forming barely a fraction of the overall market, the question of why bother targeting such a small market with such fervour arises.

For Tapal, the current campaign is seen as a vital key to tapping the ‘hidden potential’ of this category.

According to Sami Wahid, Brand Manager, Tapal Green Tea, the company has seen a 43% growth in green tea sales this year, surpassing all expected sales targets. He says Tapal is yet to see profits from the product due mainly to the small size of the market, but he believes green tea consumption can easily swell to 2,500 tonnes or more annually.

The Lipton team is also aware of this fact, and they see future growth in terms of a brand new market with a separate identity from black tea. As Aamir Malik, Creative Director, Blitz DDB explains:

“Green tea is not going to cannibalise regular tea’s market, as it is not a substitute. Green tea is essentially taken with heavy, rich meals, while regular tea is usually drunk separately. It’s generally consumed for its therapeutic value.”

For both companies, the campaigns are thus aimed to not only promote green tea with a unique identity, but also to simultaneously spread awareness and educate potential consumers in order to build the market.

To this end, Lipton’s green tea campaign has focused exclusively on highlighting the health benefits of green tea, i.e. its purification powers. This focus is derived from the company’s global, ‘Lipton tea can do that’ campaign, which presents a ‘drink better, live better’ philosophy aimed at strengthening Lipton’s position as a healthy beverage.

Umair Saeed, Associate Account Director for Lipton at Blitz DDB, says that messages tying green tea’s benefits to activities such as weddings and working out are geared to play up to the ‘healthy hedonists’ which Lipton has identified and targeted in its psychographic segmentation of the market. This uniquely discordant term defines those who desire a healthy lifestyle through products and services which are both enjoyable and require minimal effort.

The Blitz team believes Pakistan’s ‘healthy hedonists’ are particularly focused on the issue of digestion, hence the emphasis on food consumption and tea drinking. Saeed also believes tying green tea’s health benefits to a daily lifestyle will aid in changing the general perception that green tea is a product only to be consumed in the cold winter months.

Tapal has also opted to reinforce this emerging green tea culture by playing upon health benefits, but unlike Lipton, the emphasis of the campaign has been on creating an emotional connect between the consumer and the product.

Zehra Zaidi, Creative Director, Adcom (Tapal’s advertising agency) says the emotional appeal was necessary to ensure that green tea did not come off as an, ‘unfriendly’ medicinal product.

“The minute you start talking about health, people become very defensive. They start thinking, of course I don’t need that. I have been surviving so long without it.”

In developing the campaign on the emotional platform, the team at Adcom also chose to break away from Tapal’s signature red colour, replacing it with soft hues of green to deliver a consistent message tied to the product, relaxation and good health.

Trying to build the green tea market in the midst of a recession is yet another major hurdle for both Lipton and Tapal, especially as the branded green tea category faces the drawback of being a comparatively pricey product.

At the retail level, a limited survey of shops across Karachi indicates that both Tapal and Lipton currently stand out from the crowd of foreign green tea brands and flavoured tea in terms of packaging, price and most significantly, placement. Both brands are prominently displayed occupying positions next to the more popular products which either company produces, lending them support, credence and visibility on the shelves.

Additionally, both Tapal and Lipton’s SKUs range at comparatively modest, competitive prices, breaking down to two to three rupees per teabag, while foreign brands such as Tetley and Twinings range seven rupees and up per teabag. According to the retailers at these shops, Tapal has struck big with its value-addition sample pack, in which all three flavours are available for the consumer to try out.

Both Tapal and Lipton are prepared to sustain and evolve their campaigns during the year. Given that Tapal has been in the green tea market for many years, its ‘Shades of Green’ brand has the advantage of holding top of mind with consumers, reinforcing the fact that Tapal is the market leader.

However, Lipton’s reputation as a renowned, multinational brand is likely to hold some sway in the eyes of the upper-middle class and upper class bracket which is being targeted – a challenge Tapal accepts as a reality, but one which it believes it can overcome by correctly identifying itself with Pakistani tea culture; something the company has been quite successful at in the past.

The Curious Case of Desi Appliances

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

By Jahanzaib Haque

How often does one consider buying a fridge? A washing machine? A microwave?

The electronic appliance industry is one where we, as consumers spend little time thinking about such purchases on a regular basis. Technological innovation aside, these items are bought specifically to last for as long as possible, be hassle free and serve our everyday needs.

As such, one would believe the typical Pakistani compulsion to aim for a trusted, international brand would reign supreme, as is seen across the electronics industry in general.

Surprisingly, the opposite holds true in the world of electronic appliances. Local brands like Dawlance, Nobel, Pel and Waves are comfortably holding their own, if not dominating the likes of LG, Philips, Samsung and Sony. So what gives these local brands a competitive edge over their multinational counterparts?

The first step towards formulating a winning strategy was the pricing. Entering into the television set market in the 90’s, Nobel gained enormous ground by offering its TV sets at 40 to 50% lower compared to the prices offered by global brands. Nobel today holds 33% of the market (ahead of both Philips and Sony), and while a cheaper product is generally thought to be inferior t, Nobel has won out by delivering goods at a level where the bang for the buck was worth the perceived risk.

Later this strategy was slightly modified, as Aqeel Lotia, Branch Director at Nobel explains.

“Over time we changed from being a price brand to a value brand. We started offering the same features found in the high-end global brands, but at a price most people could afford. Now the price gap between us and the global brands is only five to seven percent because they were forced to lower their prices.”

Dawlance, Pel and Waves have also deployed similar strategies. Syed Hasan Jameel, Marketing Head at Dawlance says the price game has to be played from a position of strength and not just in terms of control over product quality, but in terms of perception.

“If we think of ourselves as cheap, then consumers will consider us cheap. At Dawlance, our philosophy is to identify what consumers want and then raise the bar above the international brands. We even have a number of products priced higher than the international brands. If you can explain to the customer why your product is different and how it is relevant, you can charge any amount.”

Similarly, Zubair Ahmed, xyz at Waves says the company’s slogan, ‘Naam hi Kafi Haey’ was formulated to help gain consumer acceptability of the brand as a high quality, durable and affordable product.

While pricing strategies may help in capturing market shares, a major element that has helped local brands maintain a loyal customer base has been the after sales service.

With 50 years of experience under its belt, Pel was among the first to establish a large-scale dealership and after sales service network, reaching into cities and towns where global brands could not provide adequate service.

Similarly Dawlance, Nobel and Waves all have product service networks extending across the country, offering parts at far cheaper rates than their global counterparts. Nobel took this form of value addition to the next level, by offering to replace TV sets brought to their service centres.

According to Lotia “in the past, companies like Panasonic or Sony had such a monopoly, they did not care too much about customer service. A TV could lie around for days or even weeks as parts waiting for the part to shipped in from abroad. We took a big plunge at that time and said bring in your television and we will exchange it.”

However apart from pricing and after-sales service, the fine art of trekking through the quagmire of desi wants and desires and returning with a clear understanding of the consumer is where the market has been won.

Unlike global brands which receive their directives from abroad, the local appliance brands can be constantly at the edge in terms of analysing and responding to the local market.

Dawlance, which is perhaps the largest appliance company in terms of volume and revenue, has dedicated itself to this task. Examples of innovation include the production of microwave ovens with one-touch cook settings for desi dishes, and the introduction of short-height, wide-body fridges to compensate for the shorter height of most Pakistani housewives.

Waves, which sprung up in 1979 as a strong contender in the deep freezer segment has similar stories to tell. When the average Pakistani was lacking in buying power, Waves launched ‘Triplet’ Freezers integrating fridges and freezers into one affordable unit.

Recently, with power cuts in full swing, Waves launched its ‘cool bank’ freezers and refrigerators, which can retain cooling temperatures for four to five hours without electricity. Pel too has not only continued to innovate, it has also expanded into producing generators given the frequent power outages consumer’s face.

Staying just as sharp in the TV set segment, Nobel holds onto vast segments of the lower end of the market by correctly assessing that the majority of Pakistanis are not ready to cross over to new technology such as flat panels, which is where global brands are focusing.

By controlling these elements of business, local brands look set to maintain a hold over the industry in the future.

Nobel’s now aims to offer up 40% of the company’s shares in the Karachi Stock Exchange as a full-fledged public limited company. Lotia says such a move will not only serve to demonstrate that the company is ready to give something back to the people of Pakistan, it will also help to build Nobel into a truly national institution, comparable to any multinational in terms of investments.

Homaeer Waheed, General Manager, Manufacturing at Pel says the company is now exporting its products to Afghanistan and  Bangladesh as well as certain countries in Africa – a direction which Dawlance is also keen on taking.

The big question which now faces the local appliance brands is less on how to effectively compete with the international brands, and more about how to localise the manufacture of the necessary components for their products as well as in deciding which direction they wish to drive the market.

Forced marriages destroying families at home and abroad

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The plight of thousands of young women, who are deceived, abducted and forced into marriage in Pakistan by their families settled in the UK came into the limelight at The Second Floor (t2f) Café through the screening of ‘Forced to Marry,’ a documentary by noted Producer/Director Ruhi Hamid on Tuesday evening.

The documentary was as an attempt to create a ‘space for dialogue’ about key issues in Pakistani society. A crowd of sixty, ranging from young college graduates to senior citizens had gathered at the cafe for the event. The film, which has been aired on the BBC, gives the viewer a candid, often heart rending look at what it means to be in the shoes of a young girl being made a pawn of arcane traditions demanding that she must uphold family honour, while serving to unite the community through marriage.

Much of the documentary is shot in various parts of rural Pakistan, where the team joins the British High Commission rescue unit in extracting girls who are UK citizens. The young women are essentially trapped by their in-laws with no means of escape, as there is little or no public transport in remote areas of the country, and victims are under constant surveillance. The few who do manage to make contact with British authorities do so by means of hurried calls or text messages through mobile phones.

During the discussion that followed the viewing of the documentary, Hamid pointed out that many of the girls were forced into these situations as minors, when they were as young as 12 or 13 years old. She said that the film aimed to generate awareness regarding the fact that arranged marriages such as these are a clear infringement on fundamental rights of a human. The documentary also touched upon the role of religion in this issue, showing how Islam was being misconstrued by parents to create added pressure against any resistance offered by their daughters. Through the words of many Muslim girls shown in the film, it was made clear that Islam does not allow for someone to be married against their will.

The documentary was also quick to point out subtle nuances involved in this destructive tradition. British writer and broadcaster, Ziauddin Sattar who was interviewed in the film said that while the parents of these girls believe marrying their child back in Pakistan will serve to bind the, ‘clan’ together, in reality, many of the girls are exiting such marriages and returning to the UK with permanently broken ties with their families. “We need to declare forced marriages as a criminal activity. We have to criminalise it. There is no other option,” he said.

Currently, the Forced Marriage Act in the UK gives British courts the power to issue protection orders that can stop intimidation or violence and prevent someone from having to go abroad, but it is up to the women being forced into marriage to stand up against their families. Hamid said: “If I, as an Asian woman don’t challenge this issue, no one will.”

The overall consensus of the discussion was one of recognition that forced marriages are not binding clans together, but causing the destruction of families. Much of the debate and questions raised by the audience focused on the need for documentaries such as this to reach out to audiences inside Pakistan, so that much-needed change in culture can begin from its root source. While being aired on the BBC, a number of younger audience members pointed out that the film was also accessible via downloadable torrent files on the Internet, which allowed the dialogue to move to a larger forum.

Hamid has been at the forefront of tackling the oft-ignored issues of Muslim women during her career as a director/camerawoman. She has made numerous films for the BBC, Channel 4, Arte and Al Jazeera International including “Women and Islam” and “The Rockstar and the Mullahs”.

Life, the universe and everything

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Ever since man could look up at the sky and wonder at the stars and his own existence, the debate over how things came into being has continued to rage.

This thorny issue of creation was taken up at The Second Floor (t2f) on Thursday evening, by Salman Hameed, Assistant Professor of Integrated Science and Humanities at Hampshire College, who delivered a lecture on the vastly different approaches science and religion, have taken to tackle humanity’s unending questions regarding life, the universe, and the existence of everything.

Addressing the near full-capacity crowd, Hameed introduced the scientific narrative of our creation, including a broad, yet engaging look at the Big Bang Theory and Evolutionary theory. The lecture was an eye opener for many in the audience as Hameed outlined irrefutable evidence, including the recorded expansion of the universe, chain formations of galaxies and fossilised links to our origins. The methodology and research highlighted the fact that both these theories often criticised and rejected by most religions, are actually accepted as fact with proven results.

“In this age we can finally say which of our creation myths are wrong through testing,” says Hameed, “but this does not negate religion, as science only answers how things operate, leaving people free to enrich their religious experience with the ongoing narration.” However, Hameed was quick to point out that the conflict between science and religion arises when a divine explanation is imposed on a particular scientific enquiry, thus limiting research into that field.

The debate which followed the lecture cut quickly to religious arguments against the scientific method and the confusion it generates for religious people. One young audience member said he could find no way to reconcile the scientific model of the world with his religious beliefs. Yet another stated that science had a limit to what it could answer. What, after all came after the Big Bang?

Hameed accepted that science had questions, which is still in the process of answering, and as such, scientists are constantly tackling issues which lie, “between the known and the unknown.” However, he said that religious beliefs did not have to negate a scientific view of the world, as science could be accommodated as a means of explaining how God operates. “Even Allama Iqbal believed firmly in the theory of evolution, without it having to conflict with his faith,” he cited.

The engaging discussion was part of a monthly series of lectures, debates and film viewings led by the Science Ka Adda project, hosted at t2f. “It is part of a global programme called, ‘Café Scientifique’ explains Zakir Thaver, who heads the project. “The aim of such debates is to take science down from its ivory tower and introduce it to the layman on a platform which allows open dialogue.”

Published in The News.

Mesmerising artwork on display

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From X-ray portrayals of internal beauty, to urban landscapes wrapped in dark fantasy, the graduating class (2008) of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture has put on a bold display of their final thesis work, which is open to the public till December 8.

On entering the campus and strolling past the hundreds of pieces put on display by students from the Fine arts, Textile, and Communication departments, the sheer range and creativity of these young students leaves those visiting in awe. For some interested in building their art collections, most of the work is also available for purchase, falling within modest price ranges of Rs10,000 to Rs20,000.

The displays set up inside the main building have something for everyone, and the students present amidst their art are more than willing to give those interested an in-depth understanding of the vision behind their creations. Ammad Tahir, a fine arts student describes how he aims to re-invent myths and fantasies through his contemporary work. Others like Najia Tariq, Asma Asif, Natashe Newcombe and Numra Javed use their canvas to tackle deeply personal themes such as freedom and security, alienation, feminism, gun culture and unresolved emotions.

The photographic ventures of Malika Abbasi capture stagnating construction work in Karachi, while photography minor, Hina Farooqi uses her camera to capture some of the clichés prevailing in our society. Across in the Textile and Communication displays, a similar range of ideas is seen being explored by the students. Some unveil the texture of birds captured in fabric, while others take vivid dashes of colour to create highly imaginative shower curtains. In all, the creative effort of these young graduates throws a refreshing light upon themes and ideas that fall very close to home.

Published in The News.

Science, religion unite at T2F

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Friday, November 28, 2008
By Jahanzaib Haque

Is the human spiritual experience a result of the interaction of chemicals and electric impulses in the brain? Can such experiences be artificially simulated? Controversial questions such as these were raised at The Second Floor Cafe following a viewing of the BBC documentary, ‘God on the Brain’ on Thursday.

The documentary focused on the latest scientific advances in the field of Neurotheology, which tackles questions related to the existence of God, reports of miracles and psychic phenomenon using the scientific method of testing.

An intimate but highly charged crowd of sixty people showed up for the viewing, featuring a significantly high number of youngsters.

“Science and God are relevant to all societies, and looking at both sides of the picture helps to make informed decisions” says Zaheer A Kidvai, founding member of the Peace Niche NGO which runs The Second Floor. “A private school even asked us to hold a screening of the documentary for its senior students”.

In one study highlighted in the film, Canadian scientist, Dr Michael Persinger found that an artificial magnetic field focused on the brain’s temporal lobes could induce a feeling of ‘not being alone’ akin to religious experience. A remarkable 80% of subjects he studied reported this sensation. As such, the film raised the prospect that we are hard-wired to believe in God.

A second study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania monitored blood flow patterns inside the brains of those in religious trances using a brain scanner. The blood flow patterns showed that along with the temporal lobes, the brain’s parietal lobes appeared to almost completely shut down during meditation. The parietal lobes give humans a sense of time and place, and their closure would induce a loss of the sense of self.

The viewing of the documentary was followed by an animated discussion led by Zaheer Kidvai, Dr Ghazala Aziz and a number of youngsters who built upon the documentary’s controversial theme.

One Lecole graduate found the idea that religious experience could be generated by manipulating the brain an oversimplified viewpoint, but she conceded that it was an important issue which should be discussed openly within society. Julian Padilla, a young university graduate visiting from abroad said it was interesting to see an objective field such as science try to unify such a subjective topic as religion, as each society tends to build its own form of spiritual beliefs.

While heated debate veered close to the borders of the sacred and the profane, the overall consensus was that the documentary had raised a number of vital questions which both science and religion had yet to answer fully.

The screening was held as part of the monthly, Science Ka Adda project which highlights advancements in science through lectures and debates held at The Second Floor.

Published in The News.