Battle of the Brands

Cricket and music are the two threads of commonality in our country; they bind an elite businessman in Karachi with the slum dweller in Rahim Yaar Khan. The nation's tumultuous love affair with these two recreational activities has given birth to a number of stars, talent and controversies. And several enterprises have thrived on this cricket and music craze, endorsing cricket and music stars to sing their jingles and wear the T-shirts carrying their logos.

While sponsoring cricket depends upon a company's priority - and company's target market's interest with the game, music is one fertile and affordable field that everyone wants to capitalize on. Whether it's a cola brand, a tea company, a cell phone, a multinational or a simple shampoo, music has never disappointed when it comes to connecting brands with the masses and getting the brand's message across. For the companies, which aim to target youth, music is the ultimate formula. Hence Pepsi happily endorses popular names like Junaid Jamshed, Haroon and Strings, while Coca Cola goes to any lengths to promote its association Junoon and Abrar - two names with completely opposite musical influences. Tapal signs on Najam to add more zest and energy to their logo 'Jaise Chaho Jiyo' while Brooke Bond's Supreme successfully forms a bond with masses and classes alike with their sufic number Supreme Ishq.

The Pakistani pop scene was set rolling by the likes of Alamgir and Nazia-Zoheb in early 1980s. But things moved apace with the music show "Music '89" which brought to the forefront bands like Vital Signs, Jupiters and a lot of singers who were to become mainstream a while later. Pepsi was quick to join Vital Signs to celebrate its success of "Dil Dil Pakistan." Coke signed Junoon in 1996 and has since been loyal to the band. A couple of tobacco companies too stepped into the picture and moved on to become major players endorsing music and getting credible promotion through it. Gold Leaf, Royal Filter and Embassy are some of the tobacco brands which have been taking the musical path to reach their target market. Other than these a few beverages, tea companies, drinking water brands and cell phone service providers have occasionally risen to the scene and endorsed videos, albums and singers. Those regularly endorsing music are Pepsi and Coca Cola now joined by Unilever, Tapal Tea and Tulsi Pan Masala.

While the underlying objective of all companies, behind signing singers, may be the same i.e., promoting a brand's theme, some companies rely heavily on music for this purpose while for others music is just one of the mediums to get their brand's message across. For companies like Pepsi and Coca Cola forming an association with music is the preferred way to take their respective brands to the masses. Pepsi, on its part, takes full advantage of the nation's indulgence with cricket and youth's craze for music. According to Pepsi's Marketing Manager, Salman Danish, "We operate on two levels - star level and the grassroots level. When we operate on the star level we want to give consumers an idea of what the brand stands for, we link the star qualities to the product - such as glamour etc. At the grassroots level we develop talent, through programmes such as 'cricket clinics,' 'Battle of the Bands' etc." Pepsi's "Battle of the Bands," presented last year brought on the scene bands like EP, Aaroh, etc. Pepsi currently has Junaid Jamshed, Haroon and Strings on board.

Coca Cola, which is currently making its presence felt in the music industry through Junoon and Abrar-ul-Haq, stepped into the scene with Junoon in 1996. "The soft drink's aim is to build on brand equity through stars," as Shaheera Ikram, Brand Manager, Coke, puts it. "If we are linking with a band or an individual performer people should be able to associate the brand with the musician. Coke's positioning is about enhancing moments and the musicians we go for have the same kind of appeal."

Tea brands like Tapal and Unilever's Brooke Bond Supreme too have stepped into music in the recent past and are on their way to forging closer ties with music. Tapal had Najam Shiraz singing their theme song "Jaise Chaho Jiyo" for them in the year 2001. Najam describes it as a commercial project which "was the brand's logo and I used my creative talent to uplift that song," he explains. "They wanted me to add to the theme and I brought positive energy to it. Rest of the album 'Jaise Chaho Jiyo' was my own effort and nobody interfered with it." Tapal has sponsored videos of various artists like Shehzad Roy, Faakhir, Fareeha Pervez, etc.

The latest player in the field - Tulsi Pan Masala has been at the receiving end of brickbats due to what some term as 'over branding' in the videos it sponsors. "We aim to revive old classic music. Therefore you will find us sponsoring songs that are remix versions of such numbers," says Tulsi's Event and Media Manager, Raza Bhojani. "We do sponsor original songs but that depends on various factors including our relationship with the singers."

Brooke Bond's Supreme, which has only stepped into music arena last year through "Supreme Ishq" has recently signed a deal with Jawad Ahmed. "Unlike Pepsi, we are not into promoting music. Our aim is to promote the brand's theme, which is 'Yehi Tu Hai Apnapan' and who else but an awami singer like Jawad can represent our message best," explains Qashif Effendi, Marketing Manager, Brooke Bond Supreme.

Music sponsorships normally follow the same pattern as a regular business does. In case of a new singer/band, sponsors study the market's response to the singer's work and after a thorough research determine if the singer would suit their image. "Sponsorships usually take place when you are prepared with your album," explains singer Haroon. "Sponsorships before or during the album is produced are rare and happen only in case of singers whose work is well established. So if it's an Abrar or a Junoon they will get the sponsors even before they are ready with their next album."

The deals that sponsors strike with the singers differ from one company to another and also from singer to singer. These deals could be generalized into two categories: 'Comprehensive deals' and 'One-off deals'. In a Comprehensive package a company signs a singer for a certain period of time, usually a year and finances a few (two to four) videos of the singer/band. The company also holds concerts and in some cases sponsors the shows of the singer. In return the company could get the singer to endorse their product through advertisements and incorporate the product shots in the artist's music videos. The company could also require the singer to do specialized songs for it, for instance, Strings did a song based on Cricket World Cup for Pepsi this year. Furthermore singers/bands are required to have the logo of the brand that's sponsoring them, on their album cover. The size and the placement of the logo depends upon the deal struck between the singer and the band.

In a One-off deal company works with the singer on project basis. The company could finance the video of a certain song from the album of the singer in return for product mileage in the singer's video. The company could also work in collaboration with a singer and do a song on a certain occasion or a theme, for instance Najam's "Jeeto Mere Laal" with Tapal was a song for the Cricket World Cup. String's World Cup song too was an event exclusive song, which the band did for the product that they are signed up with. In case of One off sponsorship companies usually retain their shots in the video for sometime and then chop it off once they believe their brand's message has been effectively sent across. In Faakhir's "Dilruba" sponsored by a leading brand of shampoo, the product shots were removed after being aired for a few months. But this arrangement too depends on company's terms and conditions. Tulsi would never allow their logo and product to be removed from the videos that they sponsor: "Why should we let go of the song, when we have spent so much on it? When we do a song we buy it for lifetime and there are no two ways about it," asserts Raza Bhojani of Tulsi.

The importance of sponsors is an issue that, all leading singers argue, is beyond any debate. "It is very important for a singer/band to have a sponsor in a country like Pakistan," contends Faisal Kapadia of Strings. "Thanks to piracy, record labels are not able to carry out their responsibilities which their counterparts abroad do. They cannot make expensive videos and hold concerts for the artists singed with them. This is where sponsors step in. Having a sponsor gives an artist a lot of leverage as far as videos and concerts are concerned. Money is important in order to survive in this profession and sponsorship is the only answer to this issue."

Music, over the years, has become an expensive proposition. While the recent media boom has given singers a fairly generous platform to display their talent, it has, at the same time given way to a competition for better visuals. A music video could cost anything between a few thousand rupees to 10 to 15 lakh rupees or more. When sponsors take charge of the affair, they not only finance the cost of the video but also ensure airing of the video on the appropriate channel and take care of other related details. Holding of regular concerts is also an advantage that sponsors offer to the artist they sign through comprehensive deals. Rest assured the artists knows that during his contract period, he/she shall have at least an X number of opportunities to perform in front of live audience. In times of fairly fierce competition turning fiercer thanks to money matters, these traits make sponsors too tempting for singers. As Jawad Ahmed puts it, "Sponsorships are the outcome of capitalism - either you change the system, or you agree that sponsorships are a natural part of the given structure. If you don't take the opportunity of being presented, others will take it and you will be left behind. When you are working in music, you need a sponsor."

But as they say, there are no free lunches in the world; an artist's relationship with the sponsors is strictly based on a give and take equation. While sponsors generously bestow opportunities on an artist to promote himself and his music, the fact that this earns them a right to interfere in an artist's work is what pulls many artists away from sponsors. There are some organizations that fail to draw the line between music videos and commercials. Tulsi Pan Masala is fast gaining notoriety for turning their sponsored songs into prolonged commercials with unnecessary insertion of their products in the videos. Case in point is Raheem Shah's song "Chan Chan" and another one "Husn Ki Devi" - both are being shown on TV these days. "We at Tulsi believe in subtle branding, but mileage is important too," reasons Raza Bhojani. "When we invest so much on the song, how can you expect us to let go of mileage?"

"A lot of times companies do tend to go overboard," admits Shaheera Ikram of Coca Cola. "On the other hand, if the brand is missing, that does not solve our issue either. If the product is introduced in a natural situation, it does not stand out too obviously, but blends in. At the end of the day the scenario should be mutually beneficial (for artists and sponsors both)."

Many of the singers, sponsored or not, agree that product placement is a reasonable demand and one has to accommodate the sponsors in this respect. But there are instances when the urge for a company to associate with the artist's work got so strong that lyrics or tune of the artist's songs were turned into the product's theme song. Vital signs got much flak for tempering with nation's favourite anthem "Dil Dil Pakistan" turning it into "Pepsi Pepsi Pakistan." Or Pepsi-signed artists (Junaid Jamshed, Haroon and Strings) hitting fours and sixes while mouthing "Tu Hai Kahan" was a sight that didn't go down well with music lovers and critics alike. Though such instances are very few and far between they do make singers and audience wary of sponsors. Sponsors argue that they don't interfere with artists work at all and artists maintain that sponsors have no say in their music. Defending Pepsi on "Pepsi Pepsi Pakistan" controversy, the company's brand manager Salman Danish, reasons: "According to the time it was made in, it was fine back then. Besides, a lot of people came to know of the song because of the ad. Now people would react differently to it and it would perhaps be taken negatively."

"Singers have to be particularly accommodating when they are doing specialized songs, as this is often a promotional activity for a brand. Brands are more involved in such thematic songs than in the work of the singers," says Faisal Kapadia of Strings.

Though these companies would like to deny they have any say in the artists work, their involvement is understandable since they invest money in promoting the artists and need to know their work. "They (the artists) are the music experts - we promote the music they create," enunciates Coke's Shaheera Ikram. At times we do give guidelines, but apart from giving a brief we leave them to their work." When asked what sort of brief she replied, "For example if we want a particular mood in a song we do tell them."

Regardless of what singers and companies put forth, the threat that sponsors may restrict singer's freedom to experiment with his/her music and themes is always there. Once an artist is signed with a company it's not only the artist's own image but it's the image of the brand too that becomes an artist's responsibility. Experimenting with a theme that doesn't fall in line with the company's objective could result in controversies and at times bitter fallouts.

Companies are very particular about the fact that the singers they sign have a clean, non-controversial portfolio. Tapal refrains from signing a singer haunted by a scandalous past. Coke expects its singers to be responsible individuals who "would not get embroiled in any controversial situation. If they're saying something in a public forum they might even tell us beforehand what they're going to say," explains Shaheera Ikram about the Coca Cola's two signed artists Junoon and Abrar.

After signing up an artist, the company's stance about rival products is another uncomfortable factor that has to be ironed out. For instance Coca Cola's contract, according to Shaheera, is normally for two years, and no other product can be endorsed simultaneously. "Some stipulations may last until 6-12 months after expiration of the contract, since promotional activities might still be ongoing for some time afterwards." The tea brand Supreme, while may not be as strict about this clause as Coke is, does emphasize that they expect the singer "to respect us and not be a part of any of the competitor's activities," says Qashif Effendi of Brooke Bond Supreme.

Another common policy that all sponsor adopt is that they do not invest in new singers. While describing Pepsi's stance, Salman Danish states, "We are not in the business of creating music - that's the job of record companies. We make stars bigger. But the work we do at the grassroots level is with the intent of nurturing talent, which we believe in as well. In Pakistan record companies do not nurture music - any good video that you see will be a brand sponsored one."

Tapal, which is not as faithful endorser of music as Pepsi is, refrains from making new singers a part of their campaign. "It's no point taking up new singers. Ours is a serious product. With new singers you never know what they would come up with. So it's safe to brand established singers only," explains Omar Bin Sagheer, Brand Manager, Tapal.

While the debate between the rights and wrongs of sponsors may keep music critics busy for some more time, the general response that sponsors have got from the singer is very positive and encouraging. No singer, new or old, would want to miss the world of opportunities that sponsors offer. At the end of the day it's important for singers and sponsors to draw a line and respect each other's territorial integrity. They both have been co-existing and can continue to be that way. Right now it's the urge to co-exist and not dominate that forms the core of the relationship between both the parties and let's hope things move in a positive direction for a better musical future of this land of Pure.

Zeenia Shaukat and Fareeha Rafique
July, 2003
The News International, Pakistan