Athit Perawongmetha&—Reuters

Pakistan is in the throes of state elections. The rage is gathering momentum. With increasingly high media consumption and strong opinions on this subject, it is imperative to get it right.

As we witness the chaos unfold in real-time, and many of us participate in it, a parallel drama is played out in terms of image projection. After all, elections, in many ways, are the new entertainment. It probably always has been, for Pakistan – theatrics of sorts.

Unlike the earlier days, today, everyone is involved as a citizen journalist, and they want to participate in equal measure, ensuring their fate is no longer decided by the powers that be. And why not? After all, the environment has it all – heroes and villains, officeholders and antagonists, victory and failure, clandestine and confusion, recklessness and results. It’s exciting, thrilling even – nothing short of a roller coaster ride unfurling right before you.

So it is all the more important to build a powerful political brand – it takes generations to build it. Sometimes, it is smashed in one fell swoop. From contouring the brand values and refining the brand messages, the universe is a whole another ball game. It is not the usual world of the FMCG durables or services industry.

Every Voter is Vital

With no blurring lines, there is no difference between the rich, poor, urban, rural, men, women, old, and young. Each vote boasts equal value. As a marketing and communications professional, we play by the Pareto principle in marketing – 80:20 rule, where we focus on heavy users forming 20% of the consumer base giving you 80% of revenue. In the political world, every vote carries equal weight. Interestingly, urban consumers are less likely to vote than rural counterparts.

There is Only One Execution Day

The voting day. Regular brands require building up advertising, hoping for the consumer to take action to explore and buy the product. At the elections, it’s just one day that matters. If the consumer does not “buy” you that day, it is over.

Strong Slogan

The slogan will connect you to your audience like nothing else. It must encompass your strategy into a few pitiful yet impactful words which should resonate with the target market. It should be liked and used by one and all in daily lives. Like Bhuttos’ infectious and optimistic campaign slogan roti, kapra, makaan, ensuring the provision of the basics; or perhaps the catchiest of them all is PTI’s youth-embodied tabdeeli aai ray, reflecting change, hope, and opportunity.

Often, idolizing political candidates has been the norm in Pakistan – working for the candidates rather than focusing on the candidate’s vision. For instance, popular political slogans to venerate Altaf Hussain, MQM’s founder, by coining & chanting Jeeay Altaf in the style of Jeeay Bhutto, which in turn was PPP’s mantra for its own founder, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, conveying their loyalties to the candidates.

Perhaps the best version of two powerful slogans in the days of MQM were Hum ko Manzil Nahee Rehnuma Chaheya (we don’t need to achieve our goals; we need only a leader) is the guiding light for them. And Quaid kay ferman pay jan bhee Qurban hay (we sacrifice ourselves to the word of the Quaid) was a candlelight for Muhajir activists. The epicenter of it all is the emotional connection. National pride. Individual security and a matched ideology.

Every Medium is Vital

For FMCGs, it is essential to be on television and constantly remind the consumer of your brand. Radio, Outdoor, and below-the-line collaterals are usually thought of as secondary media.

Not in the political world. It is important to target the rural consumer who works in the field and uses his black cycle to work – that is where the primary media are radio, wall paintings, stickers, graffiti, banners, and posters.

Social Media – The Game Changer

It is a no-brainer that political leaders have the highest following. Inspirational and carrying mass popularity, followers want to know what they are saying or believing. It’s interesting to note that while the PML-N has 2.4 million followers, Shehbaz Sharif enjoys 6.6 million followers on Twitter. PPP has 1 million followers on Twitter as compared to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s 5 million followers. And PTI has 8.7 million followers, while Imran Khan boasts 19.1 million followers. So, people can be bigger than their companies in the political game.

While Twitter remains the most popular social media app amongst politicians, many have also resorted to Instagram; case in point, Sherry Rehman. This helps them to cover millennials. What about Generation Z? In the recent US elections, it was said Tik Tok and Snapchat have made it to political media. Who knows if Pakistan may follow suit?

Engagement Through Live Video

Depending on the 9 pm prime time is passé. Politicians are now empowered enough to break their own news and engage with their constituents in real time. Although rather popular in the Western world, it has very much entered the Pakistani pulse in a big way. Haven’t we recently witnessed Imran Khan using this medium a-plenty?

Nearly Invisible Lead-Times

Political parties talk daily to their voter base. Many a time, there is no choice, as rebuttals must be made to counter. New ideas. Keep the conversation going. Continue to churn material till it reaches the customer’s sub-conscience.

Cell Phone is The Primary Medium

Pakistan’s population is young. Approximately 65% is below 35. Coupled with millions of smartphones in the country growing at an unprecedented rate, this is the tool to utilize in the elections going forward. The youth consumes media and news in different ways than 6-7 years ago, through online editions, news shorts, Twitter, and other social media. More than news, they want strong opinions and solid views that they can resonate with.

Shaping The Strategy

This is not a product, a category, a region, or a subsect. This is the whole country you are dealing with. Some of our provinces are equal to many European countries put together. The party’s election game plan is essential. Approach. Narrative. Language. Tonality.

Brand Proposition

As a communications strategist and content professional, it is a small wonder that every brand must be built on a sturdy, differentiated consumer proposition. For instance, every political brand needs to have a compelling point of difference. The party that talks to the youth. The party that is secular and the party that drives growth. Political brands generally speak of economic development, attract foreign and local investments, create massive employment, and reduce poverty and disparity. These are promises we hope every party makes as elections tread closer. Addressing the basic, universal needs of most voters. Anything less than this and a political brand will not stand a chance. Therefore, the point of difference must birth from an entirely different ambit — a commitment to growth, the needs of a particular region or group, or a promise of superior performance.


Of course, every political brand wishes to target the complete voter base. Possible? No – it translates into endless budgets. Solution: target segmentation exercise must be undertaken. Who are you talking to? Who will listen to you?

Brand Ambassador

Regular brands are endorsed by celebrities to give them impetus. For political brands, the face is a must. While the former can get away with it, the political scenario cannot do without it. Because the faces encapsulate the ideologies that the voters buy into. For instance, in the 2021 US elections, Donald Trump was the face of the Republicans. To counter his popularity, the Democrats needed to field the right candidate. For a long time, the Democrats seemed aimless. When Joe Biden became the face, the Political Brand wars began. And all of us know what follows when the brands are at war: the consumer enjoys the most, in this case, the voters. With a keen watch on the issues, the repartee, and the salvos. Everyone is following each move. All eyes are on the leadership.

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Sara Danial is a content lead at an agency. A Pakistani writer/editor, born, raised, and survived in Karachi, she can usually be found musing about over a cup of coffee, or occasionally ranting.