Mar 14, 2009

Long march: brand 'failure'

I am afraid I am not bowled over by this long march thing. It's got just about as much buzz as damp squib pretending to be the life and soul of the party. For one thing, the whole purpose of this long march defeats me. I mean why go for such an ordeal to start with? Why not a short march instead? What is the purpose of walking and riding rickety old vans for days and days only to get way laid by a rusting container? What does that prove except that on a good day a container past its prime can still get you where it matters? It is like asking the derailed Rawalpindi Express to hurtle full speed from one end of Islamabad only to gently toss a lolly pop arriving in Rawalpindi. Makes no sense at all. And then if all that the long march is finally offering is a visit to Islamabad, the most dull and dreary city in the world, what's the big deal? I'd rather go to Gojra.And that's not all. For an event of its much touted size, it has no corporate sponsors worth the name. It's at the end of the day just another dreary long march and since it is taking place in March, it loses any unique appeal it may have had to start with. It would have been much better that someone like Zong had picked up the event and called it Zong's Long March at unbelievably low rates. For starters it could have promised customers that they could call the president at half the rate any time of the day or night, but obviously Zong has better things to do than sponsor a daft event like this. I would have thought that since communications is going to a bit of a dodgy thing on the day itself, a Telco supporting the march would have meant something, but there were no takers. That's sad and shows that the event didn't have the pull that it should have had. Personally I think Zong missed a good opportunity. They could have had a picture of Mao alongside that of Zardari and had a slogan like, 'from the folks who gave you THE long march, here's a cheap version at an unbelievably low price.' Imagine the priceless advertising mileage with close up shots of Shahbaz and Nawaz Sharif at either end of the billboard holding mobiles close to their ears saying, 'Aur sunao?' Instead of that, all we have is a long march without any sponsorship worth talking about. Either the chaps selling the concept didn't really understand it or the advertisers are more badly hit than we all think, the final result has been the same.In terms of picking up sponsors, a sure sign of a winner is the amount of parties that sign up on the dotted line and fork out obscene amounts of cash. Nothing like that has so far been seen. Unless you think Hamid Mir is secretly selling Glaxo Baby Food on the side, since he looks like one of those babies who has knocked out the entire competition in showdown after showdown and now reigns supreme with a perpetual satisfied smile often associated with cats that have had a few unsuspecting canaries for an early breakfast. There cannot be a long march without gallons of water to consume. Beating lawyers is not an easy matter as the cops have learned over the years. For one thing they are all in black and white and look the same so any good baton-swinging cop could be forgiven for shaking his head in disbelief seeing a black coat appearing looking just the same as the one the cop had minutes back dispatched to the floor. However at the time of sending this in, no worthwhile water sponsor has come forward. I simply cannot understand how they can pass up the opportunity. Slogans like 'Purity you can trust,' which in normal times usually send consumers into frothing demons, could so easily be accepted were the visual to show Mr Zardari embracing Mr Sharif or both sharing a paper cup of the pure stuff. Imagine masses of black coats raising clenched fists at some border or the other with the line, 'We want Sufi.' No one would know that the last thing they want is Sufi but who can tell what they are saying and let's face it, thirst being thirst, the slogan would be most believable. Yet amazingly, none of the water brands has shown the least inclination in supporting the long march, neither with a campaign nor simply product placement. If I was a yogurt maker, I would have had Mr Kurd's pure white countenance on every poster, his mane of white hair so artistically blending into the open pack shot of white yogurt and some immortal line like, 'Kurd's favourite curd,' blazing across the landscape. Even a shot of him getting hauled into a police van could have had a pack shot placed next to the scene of the action with an inspiring line like, 'Stay cool with your favourite Curd.'These days all the talk is about brand activation. No one quite understands what it is but that does not mean they cannot push it forward. Basically it means making sure your brand is out there, visible and preferably in action. If you are a fruit juice, happy kids and even happier adults are sucking it up in long swoops. With cops outnumbering the protestors ten to one as a steel manufacturer I would have made a bee line and sold the steel-ends of the staves to the police, of course ensuring that the branding of the ends would be clearly visible to the cameras. Imagine a shot of a stave landing smack across the bald pate of a protestor with the line, 'Mughal Steel. Dependable to the very end.' Or if so inclined, 'Seal the deal with Mughal Steel.' Why the steel makers haven't thought of this opportunity or the police force haven't understood the potential of their product, I am not qualified to comment on, except that both have missed the bus. This reminds me about the missing bus companies. What better chance would come their way than to show millions of people crammed into their vehicles heading this way or that and some line like, 'We get you there when you need to get there,' with the maker's name right next to it? I can assure the makers that people of Pakistan who have again and again demonstrated that they are ready to buy the most worthless products, would have happily endorsed this brand knowing that for once they had the real thing.Zardari drinking glasses of Energile, Gilani popping pills with fortified iron, Salmaan Taseer with a black T Shirt and the line 'Good to the last drop,' Rehman Malik with a greasy rubber ball in his hand and the line, 'Sleaze ball,' Farooq A Naek with running shoes and the line, 'Naek. Just do it,' are all visuals that come flooding to the mind but the long march has sadly fallen short of inspiring any of the above. Instead we have dull and boring coverage from all over the countryside saying why this group or that are unable to get past the containers the police have strewn everywhere. What beats me is that they all apparently want to get to Islamabad. I thought it was a city everyone wanted to get away from. As usual I got that wrong too. By Masood Hasan

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