Synergyzer: HBL has been involved in various sports sponsorships. Can you elaborate on the company’s philosophy behind choosing sports as a platform for branding and engagement?
Ali Habib: Many big corporate entities and brands are associated with sports. This nexus of sports and business is a global phenomenon, whether you look at soccer, the NBA, or F1 racing, each of those cars is blazing with corporate logos. The template is there, the legacy is there, and all that is required is faith. HBL has that faith in Pakistan.
HBL is part of the nation’s fabric. Through HBLPSL, HBL remains committed to playing its part in promoting Pakistan through the sport across the world. HBLPSL has given an opportunity to countless young cricketers to display their talent at a national and international level. HBL is about ‘enabling dreams’ and synchronizes perfectly with HBLPSL’s philosophy to provide an enabling environment for the emerging cricketers of Pakistan.
I think we have set up a template for others to adopt, and that template works across multiple sports, which suggests that any sport in Pakistan, be it hockey or squash (Pakistan enjoys a great legacy in both), volleyball, kabaddi (big rural footprint), and football could all be scaled up with professional leagues supporting them.
Synergyzer: What value does cricket sponsorship bring to the bank, both in terms of brand exposure and community engagement?
Ali Habib: Our association with HBLPSL has strengthened our brand equity and HBL is now one of the most powerful brands in the country; in a recent independent survey of experts from a cross-section of industries, HBL was ranked as an iconic brand of Pakistan and HBLPSL was ranked as a ‘potential iconic’ brand. But that is too simplistic a prism to look at HBLPSL.
HBL launched the first-ever Branded Hashtag Challenge by a Pakistani Bank on TikTok. With the “Jahan Fans Wahan Stadium” hashtag challenge campaign, we were able to tap into the passion of cricket fans in Pakistan and create a truly immersive and interactive experience. The campaign was a huge success, with millions of young Pakistanis participating in, and sharing their love of HBLPSL, on TikTok.
We are very proud of the success of this hashtag challenge campaign, which generated over 21 billion views.
Bank’s motivation for associating with HBLPSL was not built around the regular marketing and brand-building matrices that we look at. By the time we came into HBLPSL, HBL was already 70+ years old. So, we didn’t go with the motivation that let’s go into HBLPSL because it will increase our brand awareness.
HBLPSL has played a key role in re-igniting the passion for the game in Pakistan and enabling the dreams of young cricketers to be a part of the international cricket circle. HBLPSL has given an opportunity to countless young cricketers to display their talent at a national and international level. The tournament has brought back international cricketers to Pakistan who have become ambassadors for the country. The popularity of international cricket in the country has increased because of their advocacy.
We are proud of what the tournament has achieved over the last 8 years and will continue to provide a platform to enable the dreams of young talent in the country.
Synergyzer: What challenges did you encounter in supporting a mega platform like HBLPSL?
Ali Habib: The pandemic. We were entering unchartered territory, and so was everyone else, the governments, organizations, corporations, etc. No one had seen anything like that. The fate of HBLPSL was hanging in the balance. That was a point where we took a big gulp and said to ourselves “Where is it going to go from here” and that uncertainty prevailed across the world.
There was a time when we felt that this wasn’t going to pan out. We were hearing words like “bio-bubbles” and all of that was so new. That was a time we all paused and said, “Hang on, how are we going to go about this?”. That was also the time when I think I saw some of the best coordination between all stakeholders.
We don’t acknowledge them enough but I think the government’s machinery is a key factor in this effort. I am going to call it the government machinery because it includes city administration, provincial administration, federal govt, and municipal authorities, they all play their part. And they are very integral to making this event a success.
Now with 8 years gone, all our decisions seem justifiable. At that time? It was anybody’s guess. I have tremendous respect for the franchise owners, they all stepped up, like us. It could have fizzled after the first or second year. They could have said oh this is not going to happen. Today, we are here. We are now looking at scaling and the possibility of more teams coming in.
Synergyzer: Could you share some insights into how HBL measures the success of these sponsorships beyond just financial metrics?
Ali Habib: I am a marketing person, I make an ad, I run a campaign or a sponsorship and it has a reflection on the Bank’s brand equity, brand recall, etc., all the traditional marketing matrices. HBL’s motivation has more to do with giving back to the country and community in which we operate. Looking at our partnership with HBLPSL in a strict ROI paradigm is missing the point.
HBL is about ‘enabling dreams’ and synchronizes perfectly with HBLPSL’s philosophy to provide an enabling environment for the emerging cricketers of Pakistan. The tournament has given an opportunity to countless young cricketers to display their talent at a national and international level. This has led to an unprecedented talent pipeline for Pakistan cricket and has played an instrumental role in discovering players like Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan, Shahnawaz Dahani, and many more.
Because of HBLPSL, several international players have also played a key role as brand ambassadors for Cricket in Pakistan. Their word of mouth has led to the revival of international cricket in the country. HBLPSL has helped in building a positive image for Pakistan. It has also been the true enabler for bringing international cricket back to Pakistan.
What HBL has done is that it has set a template for corporate Pakistan to step up, there is a future. And there is ROI if some of these organizations want to calculate ROIs. And this is a global phenomenon.
The successful execution of the tournament in the past is a testament to Pakistan being a peace-loving and hospitable country full of great potential and possibilities for the rest of the world.