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Mrs. Delirium on marketing gimmicks of FMCGs

The new ‘in’ is the shampoo for hijabis. Without doubt, this is a skillful maneuver on behalf of the cosmetic company to capture the rapidly growing segment of the market favoring the hijab. This foretells important trends in our population:

An ever-increasing number of woman are taking to the hijaab as their preferred attire, comprising mostly urbanites studying or working outside,  more popular amongst the younger ones, transcending class barriers. These are seen as a target market to capitalize upon since urban areas now have frequent outlets catering to the faithful like specialized shops selling abbayas and hijabs to bookshops selling only Islamic books.

While this may be seen as a backward trend by the liberals denouncing the growing conservatism & ‘Arabinization’ of the predominant culture of the Sub-Continent, a lot of terming this is as the branding of Islam into a corporate entity.

But apart from being a brilliant marketing tactic, focusing on product differentiation, it has for the first time acknowledged hitherto neglected portion of the society. This is a similar strategy deployed in Indonesia a few years back. Catering to the local demands of the local market has been successfully used in this part of the world (remember Leher Pepsi & other brands in India in the 80s?)

While visualizing Islam in the Arabic context is practicing it almost too religiously, since this culture has now taken root, there is no harm on capitalizing upon it. Taken without prejudice, this can be a section like nail lacquer for housewives or soap for eczema & certainly no cause of ridicule from the liberals.

It is heartening to see that we have advertisements catering to the local demands as opposed to imported themes or models bearing no congruency with our population in language or attire. The inevitable result of projection by the media has resulted in our youth blindly emulating them considering it hip or cool.

This also heralds the fact that our local markets are mature enough for our multinationals to come up with special products tailored for them rather than coming up with a single product for the entire region.

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Another contribution by Mrs. Delirium

Driving through the main roads of any Metropolis, Billboards displaying the latest collection of the en vogue fabric of the season one is invariably stuck with the impression of beholding familiar countenances from across the border.  

Whilst those strongly objecting to the presence of Indian Icons on Pakistani billboards, and may have a point when they criticize the exuberant amounts spent on hiring them in endorsing their products, that have little or no appeal on the other side. 

Regardless of the protests these multinationals or textile giants as they are now called, are spending colossal amounts owing to the mass appeal they enjoy on this side of the divide, not withholding the ideological segregation dominant on the socio-political and the ideological fronts. The fact that these models cost four times as much as the local ones is no deterrence to their advertising budget. That they are employed repeatedly is testimony to their popularity that they are reaping the desired dividends. 

So where does that leave us ideologically speaking? 

Despite our leaders’ stance on India and on foreign cultures in general, with India-bashing remaining as their favourite pastime, the obsession of Pakistanis with Indian icons is a reality which cannot be ignored. The cultural similarities between the two countries and the constant didactic exchange between them is also a reality.

In the face of dearth of local movies to cater to the demands of the local population, Indian movies and channels have taken the local market by storm and have worn as far as the cultural front is concerned. The huge fan-following of the Indian Channels with our local ones emulating them in language and attire is not something of the distant past.

Is this representative of the dichotomy that exists within us as Pakistanis? The ideological confusion amongst us since the inception of this country. A fragment of the society shunning India and everything associated with it and another incorporating it into their daily lives. Not only as means of entertainment, but also as their idols.

With their music loudly blaring from our vehicles, our homes & mobiles, our weddings incomplete without having their dances choreographed to the minutest detail, are we constantly living in denial?

From our National policy of fuelling hatred towards them to our unadulterated fascination with them, do we as a nation need to wake up to the fact that we cannot survive isolate in an era of information revolution and war is NOT an option for our economically challenged, terror-stricken and internationally isolated country?

So while we need to retain our individual identity as nation and adhere to the basic principles that this nation was founded upon, we need to understand that culture is and ever-changing concept. And we need to celebrate the similarities in our language and heritage to exist as a harmonious whole.

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Not upon the Aashiqi bit as a deadwood like me in no way can compliment or reciprocate the passion of Dr. Sahiba the way Kashmala Tariq does.

It is just that I always have had some mild difference of opinion with the intellectual lady every time the golden words were uttered. Sometimes, I found them flabbergasting to the point of shock or awe or an exciting and a rich mix of both. At others completely senseless and ludicrous.

The feeling owes more to my immaturity, narrow mindedness and imbecile behaviour for there is no reason why words of such supreme intellect, caliber and wisdom be ill received.

PPP has always been spilling with the gifted presence of intellectual ladies. Late prime minister, Benazir Bhutto was personally one of my favourities, who in my opinion, could’ve made the difference with her charisma and prowess. Now that she is, most unfortunately, history and stalwarts like Sherry Rehman have side stepped, it all comes down to the bravado and firebrand leadership of the likes of Fouzia Wahab and Firdous Awan to lunge forward and plug the gap. Not to mention the fact that the later originally hailed from another party and will have to switch further, if anything, to give herself close to a realistic chance of retaining her seat during the next elections.  

While I have digressed pointlessly, lets get back to where we were, i.e our agreement. During her visit to Sialkot Chamber of Commerce, the minister for Women Development has come up with the novel idea of marking and promoting the hand made export products as

                                               ‘Made By Woman’

Manufactured by a poor rural woman should earn some differentiation and enable us carve a niche in the export markets. The feminine touch or workmanship coupled with the subliminal idea of women emancipation and empowerment should generate sufficient appeal for the products in the western countries paving way for us to earn more foreign exchange and better image.

That’s how the mind of the doctor works. All is not lost. Not until as long as she keeps coming up with logical thoughts amidst her illogical torrents and outbursts.

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(A Consumer’s perspective!)

It took some emphatic and painful lecturing on the part of my two year old to educate his dumb father on differentiating ‘Spider Man’ from ‘Spider Monkey’. And when no amount of coaxing could finally convince him to swig from the bottle of Coca Cola, I was shocked at the gravity of the problem and how worse could it possibly get!? Until we had to innocently transfer the contents of the reasonably high margin product, bitterly sweetened carbonated drink, a froth of gas and acidic liquid in the empty bottle of competing Pepsi to succumb helplessly to the dictates of the bawling child_ To quench not his thirst, but his rousing desire to associate with and be loyal to the brand.

It was only then that I realized that how far these everyday consumer brands have intruded into my lifestyle, household, lounge, bedroom and even my thoughts and perceptions. To the unbelievable extent, where I have resigned to being a captive of that subliminal and imperceptible hand maneuvering all my behaviours, attitudes, thought processes and even decisions.

Being a student of marketing, I have always respected the fundamental rule and premise that it is the customer who rules and dictates the market and trends. One who is apt at identifying and interpreting consumer ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ and best ‘satisfies’ and ‘fulfills’ that particular desire by means of a product or a service, that minimizes the perceptual gap, is the winner. Simply put, it is the matter of religiously following an outside in perspective whereby the key lies in recognizing the principal and latent market demands based on customers value and then plugging the gap by virtue of seamless supply at an acceptable price.

But then who can deny the mantra that ‘Customer buys perception and NOT product’!?

A cursory glance at the things and atmosphere that surround me, leave me simply dazed at the thought that how much and deeply my perceptions are being ‘shaped’ or ‘tainted’ instead of being ‘reflected’.  

Demand cannot be created they argue. It can only be identified and met. But then what the heck is going on when we find all our five basic senses tormented by all sorts of dazzling and subliminal influences and messages round the clock? It would be quite unjust to attribute all the blame to desire, hunger, fear, greed and lust. There is someone behind the scenes who is perpetually tantalizing and fanning the emotions to raise this sentiment beyond the functional limits. Precisely why the brand loyalty or resonance takes place at the highest tiers of the pyramid, far above the functional levels. To the point where it can develop into a cult following such as Harley Davidson or Altaf Hussain for that matter.

Does marketing not invite its fair share of criticism today when it is regarded as being manipulative at its very core? Whereby it amplifies a desire, if not creates it, then devises ways and means to hook or addict the users, pursue the consumers with promotions and nagging communication, incentives and discounts, hook and bait strategies, launching loyalty and frequency programs, and then exploit the customers by riding a tide of competition, exclusivity, premium, differentiation and even deprivation. Last but not the least, by enhancing the price and exit barriers, once the product or service turns into a near indispensable solution. More of an art and propaganda to package the ordinary as extra ordinary at the expense of huge resources, highlighting selective or half truth, and then push massively through the value (supply) chain to yield multiple returns and continue the vicious cycle.

Then comes the subsidiary question of marketing and ethics. Can they practically go together? Not a long way, as the contradictions rise to the surface. Returning to the very basics of the marketing, it is about identifying the customer need and fulfilling it. The ultimate objective is to ‘sell’, earn a ‘price’ and add to the bottom line and profitability. Morality and ethics take a back seat when they tend to collide with the commercial interests. Marketing gets deaf and blind quite unwilling to judge the quality of a need or mode of a product or a service when business interest lies at the centre. That in all probability explains the thriving boom of media and telecommunication industry in Pakistan. The simple argument innocently put forth in its defence is ‘ We give the public what they ask for.’ Taking it further, right or wrong is no one’s concern as long as they fall within the regulatory framework. The particular segment or niche that is targeted or the hype or sensation that is created to influence or captivate the consumers know no norms or values. What is the intent behind producing violence ridden cartoons, video games and toy guns for toddlers and then flooding the market by plastering the gimmicky characters and displaying allied products all over the place?  

Looking at the broader spectrum, the more I watch news, follow papers, debates and conspiracy theories, eavesdrop on selected leaks and planted rumours, read John Grisham and blockbusters, the more skeptical and apprehensive I get of the influences and intrigues invisibly and silently moulding my behaviours and actions. With all those vested interests, game plans and chessboards firmly in place, how do I get to believe that it is the freedom of expression and speech and independence of thought that is shaping and running all those democracies and institutions? Next time I raise slogan in support of a political party, a leader, a global issue, a human rights cause or an environmental concern, I just wonder who would be putting words in my mouth or whose interests would I be serving by apparently casting ‘my’ vote in a poll!

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