Aaj TV may not be inclined to follow the Ries’ school of thought for its marketing strategies, but inadvertently they seem to be following their laws of branding for their new channel Play.


Play is a pretty neat branding effort. It has got a great name in line with the relevant laws of branding. It’s short, its’ simple, it’s memorable. Play TV has the power to own the word Play in the mind of the consumer.


What I personally like about Play TV is the fact that whenever I tune to it, it’s almost always playing music unlike the other music channels where some VJ bozo is ranting on and on and doesn’t know jack about music. Nadeem Farooq Paracha wrote an entire article dedicated to these tiny crusaders of music who act as if pop music was born along with them and do not have a thorough knowledge  about the Pakistani music scene, let alone the international one.


In short I want the music channels to be playing music 24/7. Period. But then that’s me. Has any of these channels actually carried out a proper marketing survey to determine what the people really want to see on these channels? I bet not.


Unfortunately, even Play TV is gradually being taken over by the Bozo phenomenon. In fact what I thought was a brilliant strategy of airing more music than VJ bombast was in fact because of being new and not having enough VJ to host the shows. But with time they are getting abreast of the other music channels in this mindless rat race


More unfortunate for Play TV has been the fact that it has been unable to create the sort of impact that its creators intended. That’s because it has been trying to compete head-on with two giants- the ARY Music and MTV Pakistan which was formerly Indus Music. It is essentially pursuing a Red Ocean Strategy which means that it is trying to compete in a cutthroat business environment where you have to fight dearly for even a crumb of the market share.


It would do well to come up with a Blue Ocean Strategy. That is, going for a battleground where the other warring parties haven’t arrived as yet. In other words identifying and then targeting a market niche which no one has focused upon. Eventually, the competitors are going to flock to Play TV’s newly discovered niche as well but by then it would have the first mover advantage and with it the largest piece of the pie.


The Blue Ocean Strategy is in line with the Ries’ laws of branding and marketing. In the US, the music scene is so varied with each genre having a sizeable portion of the population adhering to it that their music channels have the luxury to cater to just a single music genre and still be successful. So they even have channels strictly focused on R&B like KISS is on 80s R&B and still pretty successful.


Our local music channels may not have that luxury as yet but they still have got plenty to help them differentiate themselves from the competition.


So what can Play TV do to stand out from the rest of the pack?  There’s a very distinct segment of the Pakistani society which although gets the attention of the music channels occasionally but is largely ignored and itching to be heard. And that is the underground musicicans. I don’t think any survey has been done to gauge its size and especially its demographics. However, judging from competitions like Pepsi Battle of the Bands and the songs collection on Apniisp, I would say it’s pretty big and has got people from pretty much all the social-strata.


Play TV can position itself as Pakistan First/No.1/Leading Underground Music Channel and then focus entirely on this market niche. It should then limit itself to giving coverage to the undergrounds bands in Pakistan; giving them a platform to showcase their talent, and guiding them in moving from the underground to the mainstream. It can also highlight the efforts of those big names that were once on the underground scene and how they went about transforming themselves. For instance, Junoon which went from being a bunch of wedding singers to concertising in colleges and universities (Indus Valley School of Arts being their favorite hunting ground). And it was their live performances in those seats of learning that became their launch pad to stardom. All the while they were living from hand to mouth. It was a colorful journey, and would make a great story not only for the upcoming artists but for the general public as well.


That’s all well and good, the Play TV team may say, but what guarantees are there that this risky expedition would work out? None. But the absence of a guarantee hasn’t held anyone back in any sphere of life to go for greatness, least of which in marketing. The world of marketing has seen innumerable grandeur efforts, many of which have ended up in the Marketing Hall of Shame just because marketing history was ignored in the strategy. The laws of branding and marketing are nothing but the marketing history condensed into a couple of powerful statements. And they are well-backed up by some concrete statistics.


Marketers anywhere in the world would do well to read Matt Haig’s thought-provoking Brand Failures which is a soul-searching book of the 100 biggest marketing blunders in the world. The book doesn’t mention the laws, but it gives a crystal clear picture of why things went wrong. Even ‘What were they thinking?’ by Robert McMath, a former Procter & Gamble marketing executive and president of New Product Works, is a must read for all the aspiring marketers as well as the delusional veterans.


Coming back to Play, concentrating solely on the underground music scene would certainly be narrowing the scope, but it will be in line with the Law of Contraction which says that a brand becomes stronger when you narrow its focus. But how’s that possible? The thing is, when you limit your target market, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the rest of the market is excluded. It only means that you are going to give a persona to your brand which appeals to the target market and in a way projects their identity. You never know, the rest of the market may well be attracted towards that identity and want to be a part of it, like it happened in the case of Pepsi. Pepsi in order to compete with Coke followed the Law of Sacrifice and positioned itself as a drink solely for the young generation personifying all the qualities and characteristics of the young lot. And yet even 50 or 60 year olds drink Pepsi although they are not the target market. Why? Because they want to feel young and be a part of that spirited freedom which they had decades ago.


You just never know what  good things happen to your brand and from where when you narrow down the focus.


If Play  do decide to go for this category, it would be enticing those people to watch it who never would have even so much as glanced at it in a million years. Namely the old generation. How? Well, since our society still comprises of closely-knit families and being on TV is still a big deal in this part of the world, whenever an aspiring musician gets a chance to be on Play, his or her presence is going to ensure that all the Nana,Nani, Dada, Dadi, maamies, maamoes, Tayas, Tayies in short the whole khandaan is going to be glued to Play to catch a glimpse of the rising star in their family.  And that’s in addition to all the friends and the friends of the friends. And if you can give coverage to musical concert of a university, well, you can just multiply this number by let’s say, infinity. That’s because every Tom, Dick and Harry who’s present in that concert is going to see its broadcast along with his family members.


Every year IBA holds at least two battle of the bands concerts in which the performers are either IBA people or bands from the other universities like Fast and CBM. And every year the VP of the student council has to go begging to all and sundry for a bit of sponsorship. Play can play a big part in ending this ordeal, even if it cannot sponsor the event itself, it can certainly find other companies that would.


Likewise I’m sure other universities do conduct these low-key concerts. That’s what Play has to target. Go for the grassroots marketing. And this is only for Karachi. The same effort can be directed in other cities as well.


 Then a lot of underground bands play at those new crop of Cafes especially on Zamzama. Give coverage to them as well. To an extent yes, coverage has been given to these café concerts by the two music giants but these efforts have largely been sporadic. Play will have to focus the spotlight steadily on them.


The general perception is that the underground music scene is uniform. It’s not. It is composed of many different tiers. The coverage that is given to the performance of the afore-mentioned cafes is mostly to those bands which are in the first tier, the channel being afraid of airing a quality that is not going to attract the audience. And then the chance of discovering a star in the other tiers is pretty slim. Hence they don’t get to be shown on TV. A relevant example is that of Amina Sarfaraz, a promising young musician of IBA who along with her band performed at one of these M cafes to a glowing acclaim from many critics including the Dawn Images who covered the event, and yet she didn’t get the attention of the music channels simply because she’s not a seasoned musician on the underground scene.


Play would do well to follow a strategy opposite to this. It should have the motto that anyone with an ability to sing and play an instrument without jarring the eardrums of the majority of the people should be given a fair chance, irrespective of his or her past accomplishments. If Play wants to create some sort of mini-revolution, this is the only way to go, facilitating as many people as possible to jump on to the bandwagon.


 Once Play TV has positioned itself firmly in this market niche and more importantly in the mind of the consumer, it can then go global. Who says you can’t go global with a narrow scope or a persona for a specific market niche? In fact the only way to go global is to stand for something very distinct lest your brand be gobbled up by the local big brands. Just remember how Pepsi did it. Pepsi positioned itself just for the young lot, the new generation, and then kept on harping about this persona wherever it went in the world. The result needs no mentioning.


 So once Play TV has developed a strong brand essence, it can give coverage to the underground bands anywhere in the world. The most obvious and lucrative market is India’s underground music scene. Although to me, pop and rock music in India is nowhere near Pakistan’s quality (although they have a very big upper hand in the cinematic and classical category), it doesn’t mean that the market there is going to be smaller than Pakistan’s. Judging from the sheer size of India, it has got to be gargantuan. It has also to be kept in mind what is the language of the target audience, which is Urdu and maybe even English. So from that count as well, India is a must. Then how about the Indian and Pakistani expatriates in the Middle East? With such a large population of the subcontinent settled there, surely there must be a few of them around with musical inclinations?


Then we have Uncle Sam and Canada as well. Josh is a Pakistani cum Indian group from Canada, and I’m sure there must be a few of them around there. However, it doesn’t always have to be about musicians with sub continental descent. New York is supposed to have the biggest underground music scene in the world, and it wouldn’t hurt to give coverage to that as well. Get the Gora’s take on what it means to be an underground music artist.



All the brand laws aside, what’s the biggest advantage of setting up a new category and having a short and simple name? You get the chance to earn the biggest compliment the world can offer you. And that compliment is: the usage of your brand name as a generic name for the entire category. Confused? Let me give you a few examples.


What is Jeep? It’s a class of vehicle which uses the four-wheel drive system, right? Wrong. You are right about the four-wheel drive, but it’s not a type of vehicle, it is the name of a brand by General Motors. And yet people in this part of the world use the word Jeep or even Pajero to denote an SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle). Pajero like Jeep is also just a brand.


How about Scotch Tape? A type of tape? Again, it’s the name of a brand of tape. The name Xerox may not be that popular in our part of the world, but in the West the word Xerox is synonymous with a photocopy. While we say, get me a photocopy (or even powder copy of this document), they say get a xerox of this document. The only thing Xerox Corporation did to deserve this respect was being the first in that category.


More recently, we have the example of Google. Already people are referring to online searching as Googling. I did a google on that topic, I googled for my term report, and so on. The brand name is not only used as a generic name, it is being used as a verb! What more could you ask for?


In all of these cases and more, the perception in the consumers’ minds was that the brand was the category itself, which can only yield rich dividends for your brand and in turn for your firm. That’s why it’s crucial to break away from competition and do your own thing; of course keeping the audience’s needs and wants in mind.


And Play TV already has a great name with verbal consequences. It can easily be used as a verb when the need arises. But the creators of Play TV have to give a reason to the audience to do that. Can you Play the rehashed stuff?  Now that doesn’t sound likely to happen, but that’s the only option Play TV is giving to the audience right now.


What’s Play TV doing these days? Everything that it’s giant rivals are doing. That is, coming up with a lot of different shows hosted by a different VJ who goes on a ranting spree along with reading smses and taking calls. And then if there is some time left, play a few songs as wells. In short, its following William Duggan’s strategy of What Works. William Duggan’s strategy is good when what you are following is really worth following. Has any research been done to assess whether the audience actually like this format followed by just about every music channel?

Will Play TV fade into oblivion because of it? Probably not. Not because it’s a brilliant strategy but because there aren’t many choices available to Pakistani audience, at least not as yet. It will continue to nibble on the remaining crumbs of the market share left by the two giants.

When I told Hamid Kashan, the marketing manager of Aaj TV how Aaj TV itself should be broken down into different brands with distinct personas, he replied, ‘Do you know how much it costs to come up with a new channel?’


And that’s precisely my point. If it takes such huge amount of effort and money to launch a new channel, then why would you want to throw it all away just for the sake of playing it safe and following the competitors’ formula of success? Why would you want to be creatively complacent when you are oozing with creativity?


Maybe there’s a fear that the huge branding effort would be replicated by a competitor at a fraction of the cost and he would run away with your success. Yes, that’s a possibility, but a bleak one at that. Unless you do something incredibly stupid, you should be able to retain the first mover advantage. But you shouldn’t dread competition in the first place but welcome it, because only the competition has the license to authenticate the category as well as expand the boundaries of the market. Remember the Polaroid camera? Why didn’t it take off the way it should have? Why didn’t it get the popularity it deserved? No, it didn’t get obsolete because of the digital camera; its demise was way before the digital revolution. The reason it didn’t become one of the hottest commodities which it should have was because the company was hell-bent on guarding the category. It even sued Kodak for millions for dollars for trying to enter into that category.


On the other end of the spectrum, consider Hollywood, specifically the teen slash genre that was introduced by Wes Craven’s Scream in 1996. It was just a phenomenon until the competing brands like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend transformed it into a full-fledged trend, which not only propelled the weak category into a proper genre but also helped the creators of Scream complete a successful trilogy of it. It’s a classic example of a symbiotic relationship, or what Stephen Covey calls a Win-Win Strategy in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.


It’s a simple strategy. Don’t try to be better, try to be different; different in the sense that you’re fulfilling a need that the competitor isn’t. The consumers don’t give two hoots about a better product or service. The history is replete with such examples. Sega’s Saturn was a superior gaming console to Sony’s Playstation I. Microsoft’s Xbox was technically superior to Playstation II by a marked difference. Even Sony’s own BetaMax video cassette system was far more superior to JVC’s VHS system. We all know what happened to these battles and who the winners were. Why did the lesser product win? Simply because the marketing brains behind them had the common sense to know that marketing is a battle of perceptions, not the actual products or services.