Our history, resilience, and cuisine are our major attractions -- we are so much more than our exports
Marketing specialists strongly argue that in times of depressed off-take, advertising and promotion become all the more important. The reminder to the consumer about brand attributes and muscles isn’t one that finance professionals are fond of, what with their eyes on the bottom line.
The finance argument prevailed last year, as the pandemic swirled out of control and spread. Advertising revenues fell leading to major job losses, especially for agencies. It led to the International Advertising Association sponsoring advertisements on the need for promotion to reinforce and strengthen brands as well as remind consumers of the value addition of consumption. Matters have improved since then.
In between, there was a strange mix. Social awareness messages sponsored by governments and related product manufacturers such as soaps and sanitizers fought for space with weird messages, again from governments on tourism. That at a time when there were so many messages on bans on international and domestic travel, not to mention quarantines. India, Japan, and Greece spent heavily. Japan’s was understandable with the Olympic Games approaching. Greece’s acceptable, as it supported its biggest foreign exchange earner. India’s left a question mark. The Olympics were held to empty galleries, thereby a failing in the gamble of better Covid conditions. Visitors from other countries were discouraged. Japanese citizens were politely told to stay away as a follow-up flare-up of infections took place.
Greece, on the other hand, bumped up their campaigns by using online travel agencies and airlines to offer amazing discounts on advanced bookings. India made such a mess of managing Covid-19 that everyone forgot about the drive for tourism.
Theories of marketing were never designed for such unpredictable solutions. The European Cup event helped tourism, in countries where rules were relaxed. There was the strange spectacle of games being held to full spectator presence, as well as empty galleries. From gig economy to eateries, there were benefits that accrued.
Where it didn’t happen, there were many left wondering what was happening. This, in spite of small and large businesses changing their advertising from traditional outlets to social media and cell phone platforms. The tourism industry, badly hit by Covid restrictions, sighed in relief when the government lifted curbs on their business. Recouping losses is going to take time, with consumer confidence still low and suspicious. It all depends on how fed-up they have been being confined to their homes. How much disposable income they still have is another major factor. Shopping malls are in business again, but not for all product lines. Domestic airline tickets, with restrictions still in place, are becoming hard to come by unless booked in advance. Offers from resorts and hotels are emerging, but not for transportation, barring international routes.
The marketer is correct. Branding is a must in such times. It’s not as much as creating immediate urges to buy that’s in focus. The target has to be re-building and maintaining brand oomph and confidence. Humour has a role to play. Apparently weirdness too. There’s nothing better than combining brand muscles in terms of product and brand.
Bangladesh may well want to re-look at the strategies being deployed behind the $430 million it seeks to spend on promoting export sectors beyond ready-made garments through paid space on CNN. Expanding the export basket is a necessity, but timing of promotion, whether for foreign direct investment or otherwise, is crucial to the success of any campaign.
Unless otherwise constrained, it’s time to let the world know that top brand clothes, footwear, and leather products come from our factories. Above all, brand Bangladesh is more than its exports. History, resilience, and cuisine are as much of an attraction if presented in the correct vein beyond the traditional longest sandy beach, tea gardens, and such.
Above all, somewhat akin to what Rolex is doing, our own efforts at climate change adaptation are worth holding aloft. Rolex’s advertising on sustaining the world comes in the aftermath of announcing closure of outlets and streamlining products variations. Branding has to be a constant; not a nice to have.
Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.