Aaj Groping For ‘The’ Brand Power To Dethrone Geo TV II: FLASHBACK

Let’s see how the television industry in Pakistan has evolved and how Geo and Aaj fit into the prevailing paradigm. The television industry in Pakistan, just like in any other country, was a one-channel industry in its infancy. One channel in the sense that every channel had all the ingredients to fulfill the needs of the entire population. PTV –the state owned television channel had a monopoly over what people watched on their boob-tube. In fact unlike the other countries, it was the only channel on offer for most of the decades. Although there was also the STN/NTM saga in the early 90s, but that failed to do anything other than cause a mild effervescence that died down pretty soon.


In short it was just like any other category in the world, be it car, computer, music or even ice cream. The car industry in the world in the early 1900s was essentially a one-car industry, and Henry Ford made full use of that status quo to come up with his best-selling T-series. But with time the industry evolved and the category got fragmented into many sub-categories: the SUV, the station wagons, the luxury vehicles, the sportsy types, the beetle craze and a host of others. Music fragmented into rock, classical, folk etc. And then rock fragmented into pop, hard, alternate, funky, electronic and what not. It happens all the time.


 The worldwide television industry has followed this marketing law of division as well. The law states that over time a category will divide and become two or more categories. So now we have network, independent, cable, pay, public and even interactive television in the world. In Pakistan, since we lag behind the world in most innovations, the television industry only a couple of years ago started undergoing this metamorphosis. And yet the people coming up with the new private channels still go about their business as if it’s the 80s where a single channel has to be heralded as the ultimate source of family entertainment and dish out programs that cater to everyone in the family, from the grandpa down to Tancredo the dog.


Where is it written that you have to appeal to everybody in order to be successful?  Less than 1% of the entire population of the world own a mercedez or BMW. Are these brands not successful? Not many Karachiites know of Khan Broast in F.B Area, and yet it is able to generate revenues in the millions every single month just by focusing on a specific class and that also in a limited area.


And both Aaj  and Geo are guilty of this strategy of the yore. To an extent, yes, they both have realized that the market has segmented big time and so has the industry, and they both have done something about it in their own small way – Geo with separate channels GEO Sports, News and Aag; and Aaj with Play. But from this point, either they don’t know where to go from here or they think they have done more than enough, I don’t know. What I do know is both of them believe they have to target the entire population of Pakistan and much more with just a single brand.


Geo TV is still giving confused vibes with Geo and Geo News since both show each others programs, so what’s the use of separating them? What’s their brand essence, and more importantly what does Geo TV itself stands for in the minds of its audience?


The story of Geo TV is that it came into the picture as one of the first crop of private TV channels. If I remember right, it was the second private channel after Indus Vision. Both Indus and Geo TV had the same aspirations: to shatter the monopoly of PTV and occupy the throne itself. Like PTV they came up with the hackneyed formula of being a complete channel catering to the needs of all and sundry.  


Although Indus had the first mover advantage, it literally presented it on a silver platter to Geo who came much after it. I believe the reason  was that Indus was pretty tentative in what it broadcast, being the first channel in the history of Pakistan to be given the freedom to air anything it wanted to. It was presumably fearful of doing anything out of the ordinary lest this freedom be taken away just as quickly. Geo on the other hand threw caution to the wind and pretty much aired anything it could produce. So it was our very first daring, uncensored, vulgar, unadulterated, obscene, truthful (depending upon how you look at it) channel. It was brash and became an instant success. Branding or not, it threw all its resources into creating bold and audacious programs and gave the Pakistani TV audience the first breath of fresh air.


So irrespective of what the branding gurus say, Geo TV has a pretty strong positioning in the near obsolete TV category of something-for-everyone. So does Geo need branding strategies to survive? Probably not.  Why? What makes it so powerful that it can do without the immutable laws of branding?


For one, it is positioned in the minds of the consumers as the first really independent channel which was in line with the Law of the Mind which states that it’s better to be first in the mind than to be first in the marketplace. Secondly it has gargantuan resources at its disposal to keep extending its reach. But most importantly, it has the lion’s share of the market because its competing brands don’t have a clue themselves about the rules of branding, diluting themselves left and right by trying to be all things to all people and inevitably winding up in trouble. So who benefits in this valley of the blind? Of course the one-eyed Jack (Geo).


In the absence of proper branding by the competitors, the leader in the category can reign supreme without doing any branding itself if it has enough resources.


However, once a TV channel with sufficient resources and a proper branding strategy comes up, Geo TV can pretty soon land in hot waters. Why? Because marketing is a battle of perceptions, not products or services. You may have the best quality programs and the top dogs to host them, but if your audience doesn’t perceive you that way, you are as good as dead.


 I say sufficient resources because branding is an expensive undertaking. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart. When I proposed to Mr. Kashan that Aaj should have different channels with different but distinct brand personas, his prompt reply was, ‘Do you know how much it costs to launch a new channel?’ That explains it all.