Qashif Effendi Writes About How The Pandemic Created Unexplored Opportunities For Viral Content

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The world has witnessed a lot of changes lately – as if the digital era and the fact that 90% of all data in the world has been produced in the last two years wasn’t enough, a global pandemic has completed the onslaught. It has already affected and disrupted plenty of industries such as travel, tourism, restaurants, luxury brands, education etc. and continues to do so. Vaccinations have started and the hope is that this will bring some normalcy in due course. Effects of the pandemic’s aftermath may still be felt so it may be a while before we recover fully.

So how have we done in Pakistan as a result of these changes? For starters, everything edible now carries the word immunity or some sort of health benefit. And everything inedible has some virus-killing efficacy. Split AC’s can detect dust and clean the air for us, detergents can detect germs and viruses in clothes and annihilate them for us, liquid and soap bars can chhoo mantar the virus after we rub our hands vociferously, biscuits, nimco, flour all have the super ingredients to give us better immunity to fight the pandemic from within. And of course the street Amils have got magic spells to ward off COVID-19 in addition to ensuring your beloved fall at your feet.

For some strange reason, COVID-19 has also brought out the music bug in most brands. Besides the usual cola brands, now biscuits, cooking oils, nicotine fixers and coffee makers all want us to hum to their tunes.

And not just us, actors are getting back at singers for their wanting to act. Revenge can be so musical. Even a throat lozenges brand (more like candy according to Competition Commission of Pakistan) wants us to jog our vocal cords and churn out A-capella music. The much hyped-about Cricket league also released its 6th Groovy Anthem and supposedly based on the reaction on social media, decided to record the Opening Ceremony in Turkey!

On the subject of Turkey, its biggest export to us rages on in the form of celebrity endorsements of its lead actors. From mobile phones to clothing labels to cricket franchises, the list of brands jumping around to get these actors on-board is remarkable. If you have the budgets, these actors are certainly the flavor of the month. Makes one wonder how our own celebrities must feel. Even a shameful attempt to fraud one of these actors was not enough to dissuade them. And we don’t just love the actors, the theme music of the drama is on many of the ringtones and the name of the drama can be found on edibles as well as in-edibles. Is there a restaurant by its name already up and running? And does it have the drama theme too? If so, it must definitely be worth a visit.

Besides these actors, the video “Ye meri pawry ho rahi hai” has caught so much of our fancy that everyone has jumped the bandwagon (and not just in Pakistan) to make their own funny versions of it. Luckily, unlike the video with the restaurant owners testing the English language skills of their employee, this video did not become controversial and recently the girl who made the video came on-air and said it was in jest that she made this and was happy it has caught the fancy of many. Watch out for more videos from this girl who is now a celebrity waiting to happen. Mind you, all it takes is a 5-second video to latch on to our whims and we turn a regular gal into a viral sensation.

I remember the days I was working for Unilever and the latest Harry Potter book was about to come out and it was the rage all over with people lining up in front of bookstores to get an early copy (obviously a zillion years ago when bookstores actually existed).

We were told that our brands have to try and achieve such following as Harry Potter had achieved and should aim to have consumers as passionate to have them. In the modern day analogy, brands have to probably try and aim for the same virality that the Party (read pawry) video has achieved whilst simultaneously being creative and true to the brand’s positioning.

Agreed difficult, but not an impossible task.

Rather brands that come up with socially relevant messages have found their videos getting viral – a cooking oil brand with the “share a meal” concept was shared by many as an example to emulate. “Dua-e-Reem”, a song we sponsored with the maestro Shoaib Mansoor at its helm, which showcased the issue of women empowerment in marriages found its way on the viral bandwagon despite being over 7-minutes long. The fact that it was used across the border to mitigate domestic violence against women during lockdown is a testimony to the power of creativity and originality.

Moving on to the subject of COVID-19, getting online has become a necessity for many and an issue confronting parents all over is the online teaching trend. Some schools have opted for a hybrid model and some have gone completely online. As a father of a 10-year-old, I see the difficulty in this for children as well as teachers.

Expecting a child to sit in front of a screen for half a day listening to one lecture after another and being able to take notes, answer questions, do assignments and take exams is daunting to say the least.

Hence grades are slipping and parents are concerned. I am teaching grad school students online and that too is challenging. Somehow the empathy and connection a teacher can make in an offline setting is missing in online classes. Most students can’t open their videos due to bad internet connection (or so is the obvious excuse for apathy). All in all an extremely challenging situation, which is imploring for schools to change the way the curriculum is structured to make it more entertaining and digital-friendly. Any marketers willing to take up the challenge to make school education fun over the digital medium?

Being a frequent traveller pre-COVID, I have seen firsthand how the tourism industry and its related business have suffered. Airlines are trying their best to lure people to travel and throwing in the kitchen sink if they could. Upgrades are being doled out – with frequent-flyers getting fantastic offers besides up-gradation of their flyer status. Although travelling is challenging; for instance for a certain upcoming exhibition in Dubai, three COVID-19 tests are needed even for a short trip of 5 days – one pre-travel, one on arrival and one before departure. If any one of the on arrival and pre-departure tests come back positive (the margin of error is extremely high according to the testing lab’s results sheet), quarantining for two-weeks in Dubai becomes essential, on one’s own expense. Hence, travelling is certainly not for the weak-lunged (replacing weak-hearted for now) and slim-walleted these days. Kudos to the airlines and hotels still in business for trying this hard to stay afloat.

On a surprisingly positive note, Gigi Hadid’s post featuring our favorite spice brand perked us up and sent everyone on a frenzy over Twitter. Zara Naeem scoring the highest marks in ACCA also had us celebrating in joy. Such is the power of social media. What I don’t get though is why are our TV shows, including Game Shows, covering TikTok videos? Are we trying to make TikTok mainstream? Is it not enough that TikTok stars prance around in our Government offices as well as with celebrity clergies?

Digital disruption and COVID-19 have been the knockout punch for many businesses. And yet we see resilience and the human spirit fighting on. Opportunities have sprung up and many young startups are finding the time right for their voices to be heard and counted. Authenticity is being rewarded – Sidra and Waqas from Okara achieving success with Atoms shoes is one such success story – and online communities are centered more on common interests than branded efforts. PewDiePie’s YouTube channel has more than 109 million subscribers versus McDonald’s, which has 461k only. And so the challenge for brands rages on. According to the internet, the brand with the highest number of YouTube subscribers is Lego with 8.2 million – still a long way from 109 million.

Stay tuned to Synergyzer for more!

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Qashif Effendi has over 23 years’ international experience of working at CEO, Director and General Management positions in top multinationals in the MENA and South Asia regions. He has worked with Chevron, Philips, Unilever, Tetley, Abu Dhabi National Industrial Projects Co., UAE and currently as CEO at Reem Group, a 100% multinational JV of Al Ghurair UAE and Al Mohaidib KSA. Brands like Philips Whirlpool, Dalda Cooking Oil, Brooke Bond Supreme, Tetley and Reem achieved tremendous growth during his stewardship. He has also consulted for various companies such as HELM Medical (Hamburg, Germany), Simply Sufi, Shan Foods, KESC, Adamjee Insurance, Dollar Stationers, Liberty Books, Hilton Pharmaceutical, PharmEvo and PSTD (Pakistan Society for Training and Development). He is an alumnus of IBA with a great passion for learning. He has been a visiting faculty at IBA, Szabist and CBM for over 13 years teaching Brand Management, Export Marketing, Advertising, Consumer Behavior, Strategic Marketing and Technopreneurship. Voted as one of 100 top performing company CEO’s in 2017 by CEO Club Pakistan, he is an advisor to the Board of WE-NET (Pakistan Women Entrepreneurs Network for Trade) a World Bank funded initiative and has conducted several capacity building sessions for trade development bodies such as USAID funded PREIA (Pakistan Regional Economic Integration Activity), NIC Karachi & Lahore, TIE and Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce. He is also the Module Leader for Technopreneurship program at Chaudhry Muhammad Akram Center for Entrepreneurship Development in Lahore.