moving on…

•December 9, 2007 • 4 Comments

On 20th November 2007, I made my second move towards what I really want to do in life. Generally people don’t get it as easily. Most people end up living their whole lives making compromises, killing their dreams and ignoring the voice within to get something which they don’t really want. They just have to make do because of the circumstances that they find themselves in. I find myself lucky to have spent the right amount of time in the right place and left at exactly the right time. Had I made a hasty decision an year ago, I might have compromised my position in the industry.

Strategic planning is something that I had always wanted to do. In my initial years at Contact Plus, I got a taste of brand planning on Ufone which remained the single best period of my stay in the company. A couple of things that worked for me was that I got to work with some amazing people. People who were willing to take you along with them even though you were just a kid and didn’t add value for a long period of time. People who selflessly wanted you to grow and learn something. But at the same time, I think I made their life easier by being the attentive student, hanging on to each word and also having real passion. But I think that passion is within every one of us. Its how someone can be inspired to think in a particular way. And I must say I have been inspired for life now. I know what I want to do with life and where I want to be in the future. Ofcourse, there will be obstacles, and the environment could change everything but somehow I believe that if your vision is set upon a particular facet of core human value, the path to that vision might change but not the vision itself. Human values, beliefs and drivers remain the same wherever we go, whatever we do. These are engrained into the system that the world works on. If these values failed to be relevant, it could endanger the existence of the human race altogether.

Some of my best memories at Contact Plus have been associated with working on projects like Shell: Project Guinness, Ufone: Repositioning Strategy, Telenor: Activation Pitch, Walls: War Games, Cornetto: Canteen Kahani and Engro Foods Agency on Record Pitch.

I have moved to RED Communication Arts, a mid sized ad agency based out of Lahore. I am heading their strategic planning department which is still quite raw. Already I have had to give priority to work than analyze the systems and suggest improvements. The top three goals in my head would always remain business building, brand building and organizational capacity building. I think business building always follows brand building because people always like to buy products or work with brands which radiate a positive aura. Organizational capacity building requires a lot of foresight, imagination and belief in your own skills. In the service industry people are your biggest assets and building capacity helps you stay ahead of the times and at the same time helps you flaunt your people to build the brand.

As of right now cybernet is our biggest account in Karachi and my first pitch was a huge strategy led creative exercise for engro foods. Meanwhile a lot of stuff is in the pipeline and I really need to get going on the organization development plan.


cornetto girl, where are you

•November 6, 2007 • Leave a Comment

The cornetto girl campaign has finally come to an end. Even thoughi feel that its effects would continue to spread it is pretty safe now to bring to light whatever conspired in the campaign.

When we first received the brief for the campaign in October of 2006, we would never have thought that we would end up doing such a wacky and totally out of this world project. But thanks to the total support of the then brand manager (farah anwar) and the beautiful follow through by the now marketing manager (mona hussain) for walls we were able to see it through to completion having made countless learning’s along the way


As per the objectives we went about solving two key challenges.


  • Enhance the connection between teenage infatuation and cornetto
  • Break through the clutter without spending a fortune on media


The idea was to go ahead with a concept which would create talkability on its own and enhance the media ROI. The concept centered on a pseudo reality mystery based on the life the cornetto consumer.


“a guy sees a girl in his college for the first time eating a cornetto and instantly falls in love with her. The girl disappears a couple of days later before the guy has had a chance to make an impression on her. The guy, in desperation goes on to develop a whole ad campaign to track her down, bringing the whole country in on the search…”


This concept was then put on relevant media. From a 12 episode drama serial to creating hype on blogs and social networks to virally generated sms’s/emails we virtually exhausted all youth centric media. Even radio was used to insert ideas, theories, hoaxes about story through RJ chit chat. Seeded content generated to destabilize the theories in the drama helped keep the mystery alive through spoof videos.


Some of the ideas that never saw the light of day, was a specialized documentary, t-shirts and bumper stickers, sarmad appearing on begum nawazish ali’s show to clear out his position and sarmad’s car seen on the roads of the 3 metros with cool art work to help him find his cornetto girl. We even thought of having a PR leg to the campaign as well with articles in images and the magazine talking about the cornetto girl phenomenon.


All in all, this was a huge win for contact plus as we showed that well-established brands can come up with new ideas to reinvigorate their brand presence.



winning gold is not everything

•November 3, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Yesterday was a big day in the history of my career. We presented the review of activations with EFL for 2007 and discussed the way forward for 2008. The review was presented to the whole marketing team of EFL with all the brand managers and group brand managers led by the director marketing.

There were no surpsrises in the review but by the end of it Ali Akbar’s review and way forward really brought flavor to the meeting. The first comment he made really took us by surprise. Saying something like ‘contact plus is our best business partner’ infront of a group of BM’s and GBM’s who are the custodians of their respective business partners uplifted our spirits. He then upped the ante by proposing a long term strategic partnership between contact plus and engro foods which would help the whole activation setup to grow as contact plus and engro foods invests heavily in bringing more professioanlism in the industry and also in investing more on key activation mediums ahead of the changing media scenerio of the country.

The meeting at one end made my spirits soar very high but at the same time, put question marks in my head. Being the lead strategic planner for EFL even before a single brand was luanched two years ago, and now moving away to Red Communications later this month, i would have to let go of working with a group which has all the potential of the world to become Pakistan’s first corporate brand to enter the gloabal arena. But more about my move in a later blog…

Regionalized Centralization

•August 16, 2007 • Leave a Comment

We are moving towards regionalized centralization in the marketing communications industry. Global brands are centralizing their marketing operations from one head office in the region. Clustering together countries into a region and driving the brand message from there helps to synergize costs and also helps maintain a consistent brand image across a large geographic region.

But often a region is defined by geographical continuity based on supply chain synergies rather than similarities in culture of consumer mindsets. It would be bordering on stupidity to include Saudi Arabia and UAE within the same region and creating the same marketing content for them. Saudi Arab is hard core arab while UAE comprises of more than 70% expatriates and boasts more of a global culture.

Media productions and in some cases media planning is being done through the center only to be executed within the region. MNC’s like Unilever, Cartoon Network and Shell keep tight controls over what image is being projected of their brand. But this takes away one of the mojor roles of a brand manger from their job descriptions. Without having control over the content of the brand message, the responsibility shifts to the region to get it right. The brand manager only becomes the executioner of the ideas, coordinating with agencies on behalf of the head office in the center.

But luckily, brand managers have been able to find a loophole in the scenario. Rather than take face for the rather off-target campaign entrusted upon them from the region, the brand managers at the spokes come up with localized versions of the campaigns in the form of brand activation activities. The future of the personal growth for brand managers would only come if they can convince their bosses in the region to dish out budgets for localized activations. This can only happen when brand managers and activation agencies team up and come up with ideas that can convince the region of results. Only then will brand managers get the high of being real brand custodians. The ownership would only come when there are stakes attached to what a brand manager does.

Measuring Virability

•June 21, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Being in the brand activation industry, we often have to hear skeptical remarks from brand managers about how putting money into brand activation is like shooting in the dark. Our usual response is that it is difficult to put a success criteria on any form of marketing efforts done through any other approach to marketing communications.

Multinational brands use tracking metrics to measure top of mind awareness and other brand health indicators to track how each marketing campaign helps in improving the overall brand. But ofcourse those measures are long term metrics (especially for established brands) and their effects cannot be measured for focused or tactical campaigns. Nevertheless, the CDF analysis used by Pakistan Tobacco Company or ATP used by Unilever and Engro Foods is the only data available to a brand manager to help them make calls.

In terms of viral campaigns, measurement becomes a little easier if the mediums used are trackable (mostly interactive media) but since the concept is so new, there are no benchmarks available to tell us how successful the campaign really was. Focus groups and TOM trackers can help here too but not just in isolation.

Recently working for the biggest ice cream brand in the country, we were faced with a similar question. But rather than give an answer shrouded in obscurity, we suggested a couple of models, which would at least give some meaning to the marketing buck spent on the campaign.

  • Content Relevance

o The more relevant the content for your particular target market, the better the response. Forwardability increases if you make the group think that they are part of something big and as a group their chances of standing out in other groups is big.

o Shock value of content. Unless the content is interesting or challenges the way you think, people would never forward it. Your consumers would never want to look like losers in the eyes of their friends by forwarding something lame.

  • · Media Relevance

o Is your seeding strategy relevant to the target market

o Media habits: Do consumers subscribe to highly viral media like cell phones, email. For example there is a vast difference between youth media which is more viral than media for middle aged consumers whose viral media habits are centered around group meetings

  • · Reliability and Redundancies of Media

o Where is the news posted? Is it coming from a random source or from a trusted friend. Skepticism in consumers is on all time high. They would tune out everything that comes from unknown sources.

o Reliability of news increases with redundancies. If the consumer sees the same news on 5 different channels, the trust level increases each time. It is something that I call media herding. If you cant get BBC to show your story, replicate the story on smaller local channels and soon they would have generated the same amount of trust as the bigger channels.

For each of these measures there needs to be an index with weight assignments and then they need to be benchmarked against the most successful viral campaigns of the category.

Also a large part of a viral campaign is beyond any form of calculation but can still give a huge tilt to measuring whether the campaign was successful. These can be attributed to behavioral changes in the society brought about by the campaign (for example the tilt toward more clubbing because of the Axe effect campaigns). The manifestations of these changes in society are almost always first observed in the press. If your campaigns, versions of it or the concept of your campaign start getting free PR mileage then I feel that you have hit the bulls eye with your viral campaign. The press is the most potent barometer to judge the success of a viral campaign. The Just in Time mechanism of the press to dynamically capture a trend in the market will always tell you whether your campaign has moved the consumers.

I think that if you wan to judge the priorities of a nation you should observe the press of that nation and it will tell you instantly what is playing on the minds of the people. Always ready to pounce on the news that would stir the public, the press plays on the basic instincts of a nation’s psyche. So if you have made it to the news, it should give you a clear signal about the strength of your campaign.

Another model to judge the monetary returns to your campaign is benchmark against media which already has some form of measurability built into them. Tradional media is measured in terms of Cost per Contact (CPC) which in turn in measured through a model of GRP’s. In order to work this model out you need to figure out how much would it cost you to get the kind of response that you get from virals if you actually activated through traditional mediums. For example, how much money would you have to spend to get a consumer to buy into the idea of a video and generate enough likeability that he/she actually decides to talk and share it with her/his friends. Traditional mediums have a much harder job to get consumers to act since their nature is so passive. So watching an ad once, will not get them that bang, plus they will have to go through multiple channels to make the consumers realize the importance of the message. Adding up all those efforts of traditional mediums would tell you how much buzz value in terms of rupees you got from a single viral. So for example the amount you would have to pay a Dawn reporter to get the story of Olwell into the press would tell you the opportunity cost of doing a viral that gets free publicity in Dawn.

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Fall of Traditional Media

•May 31, 2007 • Leave a Comment

“don’t count the ones you reach, reach the ones who count” 

Soemthing that has come as an insight over the past one week working on the cornetto viral plan is how screwed up our media landscape really is. The way things work here and the structure of media is so ad hoc, it pisses me off no end. I plan to meet up with a media plannner from either mindshare or media comm next week to understand how they really go about things

So what i have realized is that the media landscape has changed over the past few years but our media agencies have not really geared up for the change.

  • Dwindling attention spans of the consumer
  • Cosumers in control (DVR, Online Media)
    • There is lots more choice
  • The battle is no more for reach but for impact and relevance
    • It doesnt matter whether your particular consumer is watching, it is more about what they are watching

A couple of recent articles on the millward brown blog really told me a lot of viral marketing and why it works compared to the traditional aproach of media planning. Now, when the media is the message, viral marketing uses media relevacne to drive home the message. This paper on the millward brown blog talks about the research done on neuroscience to discover how we react and structure information and how, when and what impact ads have on our lives based on their timing and media used.

 Only today, someone in the marketing 360 group pointed out that they saw a telenor ad on cartoon network. now that is down right stupid even if you discount the fact that telenor has blind money to throw around on the media. and there were yet others right there in the stooopid hall of fame who tried justifying the idea by saying that telenor wants to target its consumers early on.

Researching viral marketing i came across this brilliant resource that should be bookmarked by all aspiring planners out there.

 Tagged below is the initial buildup of the cornetto viral plan. Ofcourse i have not been able to disclose the idea but the buildup does take you through the world of viral marketing. It also shows how strongly we have to end up sell viral marketing ideas to this part of the world. I’m glad the cornetto brand team has had the gutts to go forward with this campaign.

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Global Agencies in the Third World

•January 30, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Recently a question posted on an advertising forum on orkut made me realize quite a lot about the global advertising scene and how Pakistan fits into the whole picture. The recent introduction of O&M into the advertising scene has been quite an eye opener at least for me. Just rummaging through the list of the largest agencies in the world I was quite shocked to see that there is little or no presence of some of the largest agencies in the world in Pakistan. Arguably the largest agency in the country is ranked below 10 in the world. JWT, Mindshare and O&M are three largest WPP companies and the parent companies have huge stakes in these in Pakistan. The rest of the agencies are just affiliates with little or no systems adherence and trainings to their parent companies. The only benefit is the automatic acquisition of globally aligned business. Now that O&M has made the move and WPP has become so much stronger in Pakistan, I’m beginning to think, what the Omnicom group is doing sitting on its ass. Apart from BBDO (or is it TBWA) there is no real strength of the Omnicom group in Pakistan.

Check out the global revenue + family trees of the top agencies of the world at AdAge here.