Customer Needs and Behaviour in Pakistan
Why should I read this document?
The prime objective of this document is to provide useful insight into Pakistan’s economic and cultural profile. The intent is to provide awareness of Pakistan’s cultural sketch to help identify appropriate strategies that can appeal to Pakistani consumers and in turn provide sustained success in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Economic Profile
Pakistan is rapidly becoming one of the most attractive markets in the world. This is because Pakistan:
is the world’s fifth (5th) largest population of with over two hundred and twenty (> 220) million;
sixty-four percent (64%) of its population (140 million) is below the age of 30, making Pakistan one of the youngest countries in the world.
has been designated as the twenty-fourth (24th) largest country on purchasing power parity (PPP)
is ranked forty second (42nd) largest in terms of nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
has at least seventy-four (74) million on-line consumers and growing
is among the top five (5) countries by Intra-Country Ultra-Wealthy Population with 25.6%
With this economical stature, it is almost impossible to ignore Pakistan’s potential.
Pakistan’s Cultural Profile
Pakistan is one of the most ‘collectivist’ societies in the world, where maintaining relationships is always the top priority. Their society respects hierarchy. They are very sensitive, in fact, quite emotional about their beliefs and cultural norms. Achieving and maintaining social status (by virtue of having rank or valuable possessions etc.) is important for people living in Pakistan.
The five (5) most important things to know about Pakistan’s culture that influence consumer behaviour (if you only read one thing this is what you should read).
Social Status Driven – Pakistani society not only accepts hierarchy but also admires people who achieve hierarchical status within their communities. Therefore, consumers’ decisions are often based on “showing status” as much as on usability and need.
Collective Society – Being one of the most collectivist societies in the world, Pakistanis are very well-knit, extended family-oriented people who value their relationships. Therefore, consumers almost always consider approval of their choices within their sphere of influence.
Brand Loyal – Since Pakistanis value their relationships over the task at hand, more often than not, they want to stay brand loyal. The priority order for any decision when it comes to brand switch is relationship first, then the value.
High Context / Implicit Communication – Communication in Pakistan may become implicit and relayed through non-verbal methods if people feel there is a danger of compromising or a possibility of enhancing relationships. Therefore, in those circumstances, non-verbal methods, including description of situation, facial expressions, eye movement, tone of voice etc., become more important than actual words when communicating meaningful information.
Emotionally Attached to Their Roots – Pakistanis are emotionally attached to their roots and social norms. Therefore, consumers assess the alignment of their choice with socially accepted norms.
Pakistan is rapidly becoming one of the most attractive markets in the world.
As for any lucrative market, it is imperative to understand consumer behaviours in order to draft effective marketing strategies. While consumer behaviour may be influenced by numerous factors, this article aims to identify and discuss cultural influences on Pakistani consumers. Let’s examine Pakistan’s culture from the 6-D perspective. Even though all six (6) dimensions are important, three (3) dimensions play a distinguishing role in understanding unique aspects of Pakistani culture.
PDI (Power Distance Index Score: 55)
Even though this index is not quite as high as some other regional countries, Pakistan’s culture is still considered at the higher end of the Power Distance Index. This means, in Pakistani society, hierarchical inequality is somewhat accepted as a norm; hierarchical rank influences communication and tilts the balance in favour of the power holder.
IDV (Individualism Score: 14)
Pakistan is one of the most collectivist societies in the world. This manifests in a long-term commitment to the member ‘group’, be that a family, extended family, or extended relationships. Loyalty in a collectivist culture is paramount and overrides most other societal rules and regulations. Pakistani society fosters strong relationships where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group. As a result, in Pakistan, offence leads to shame and loss of face. Employer/employee relationships are perceived in moral terms (like a family link). Additionally, because relationships are more important than tasks, Pakistanis tend to have a very fluid attitude towards timeliness and punctuality.
Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI score: 70)
Pakistan’s score on this dimension signifies a high preference for avoiding uncertainty. They like to maintain their rigid codes of belief and behaviour and are intolerant of unorthodox behaviour and ideas. In Pakistan, there is an emotional need for rules (even if the rules never seem to work). This may sound a little paradoxical. Perhaps a better way to understand that comment is to view it from an emotional attachment perspective. In other words, people in Pakistan may not follow traffic rules because emotionally they may not be attached to traffic rules. However, when it comes to religious or social norms, they are quite emotional and do not want to deviate.
How does this combination manifest in Consumer Behaviour?
A combination of these dimension profiles (i.e. relatively High PDI, very Low IDV and high UAI) manifest in distinct consumer behaviour in Pakistan. With a relatively high PDI, Pakistani society not only accepts hierarchy but also admires people who achieve hierarchical status within their communities. Therefore, consumers’ decisions are often based on “showing status” as much as on usability and need. As showing status through material things is important, advertisement campaigns frequently utilise endorsement by celebrities. They symbolise status and prestige and ‘give face’ to a product. People are naturally drawn to their high position in society, respect what they think, and trust the products that they endorse.
Being one of the most collectivist societies in the world, Pakistanis are very well-knit, extended family and community-oriented people who value their relationships. Therefore, consumers almost always consider approval of their choices within their sphere of influence. Since Pakistanis value their relationships over the task, most often, Pakistanis want to stay brand loyal. The priority order for any decision when it comes to brand switch is relationship first, then the value.
In Pakistan, communication may become implicit and relayed through non-verbal methods if individuals feel there is a danger of compromising or a possibility of enhancing relationships. Therefore, in those circumstances, non-verbal methods, including a description of the situation, facial expressions, eye movement, tone of voice etc., become more important than actual words when communicating meaningful information.
Finally, Pakistanis are emotionally attached to their roots and social norms. Therefore, consumers assess the alignment of their choice with socially accepted norms. Consumers are almost always drawn to advertising messages that are linked to a product’s social acceptability and symbolism connected to achievement, prestige, and wealth.
Like any other country, understanding consumer behaviour in Pakistan is a broad and complicated task, but with the right research including cultural awareness, an effective strategy can be forged to convince the consumer in favour of your product/service.
Data-driven decision making is indeed the modus operandi in this digitally synchronised world. However, focusing only on the data without understanding the context, including the environmental, societal, and psychological factors impacting consumers’ behaviours, can be a recipe for failure. Analysing data against the background of these factors can give way to new insights and allows us to measure the “Why?” behind purchasing behaviour, attitudinal shifts towards brands, and preferred methods of sharing feedback.
In order to effectively understand consumer behaviour in Pakistan, a couple of advertisements have been chosen to demonstrate how cultural awareness in advertising can be influential.
Two global brands Surf (by Unilever) and Pepsi Cola have been chosen in this case to demonstrate advertisement in the cultural context. It is intended to compare advertising campaigns of these global brands in Pakistan and UK in the cultural context.
Surf (by Unilever)
In the Surf advertisement for Pakistan’s audience, viewers will notice the 2016 commercial runs a little over two minutes in length. The ad features a little boy named Amaan wearing freshly laundered white clothes (traditional Pakistani shalwar and qameez). Amaan looks at his mother, giving her a non-verbal question to answer. She responds with a tilt of her head, proudly letting her bright and clean boy play outside. Immediately Amaan meets up with friends and runs happily through the streets. Then he notices an older man wheeling a food cart down the street. The man is stuck and can’t get into the square to sell his samosas to the passing crowds.
An innocent Amaan and his two friends run to the old man and grab a few samosas off his cart. Thinking the boys are stealing, the man shouts out to them, but the boys take off into the square. A heartwarming turn of events unfolds as Amaan begins shouting “fresh samosas” and selling them on foot. He tucks them into his white clothes. The food vendor joins him, and his fellow boys and they quickly sell out.
The commercial comes to an end as only a few samosas are left. When a customer tries to buy them, the food vendor says the remaining treats are for the boys. One by one the boys reveal grease-stained white garments, a byproduct of their sale tactics. Amaan’s mother calls to him. He looks alarmed but his mother smiles because he demonstrated such kindness. After all, the family uses Surf and she can wash his clothes anew again with the tagline ‘helping someone is an act of faith, and if clothes get stained while helping others then stains are good’ (non-verbal inference that Surf has you covered).
This ad encapsulates moral values, the importance of community, and a “coming together,” all while advertising a laundry detergent. Being a collectivist society, it is clear Pakistan values unity and collective good in their advertising. This value also plays out in the generational story between Amaan and his young friends and the elder food cart vendor.
Now, when one views the 2015 UK advertisement for Surf, the entire advertising campaign could not be more different from Pakistan. First, the commercial depicts a day of a young woman who is followed by three bare-chested men tossing rose petals on her. She wakes up, walks to work at her salon, has coffee with a friend, and returns home. During her day, the bare-chested men follow her and continue to toss the rose petals. The obvious message is you will smell like roses all day if you use Surf.
However, the individualism depicted in this ad is a stark contrast from the collectivism of the Pakistani advertisement. There is no emphasis on community or family until the conclusion of the commercial when the young woman goes to bed with her husband. The three bare-chested men can be seen laying at the foot of the bed, asleep, as if they were pets as the exasperated husband rolls his eyes.
The moral character of the UK advertisement is almost superficial and certainly indulgent. No lessons are taught. No values are upheld. Just one individualistic woman smelling good and having men toss rose petals on her throughout the day. The commercial is also shorter in length than its Pakistani counterpart, not allowing for a full spectrum of time to tell a robust story.
Pepsi Cola is one of the most recognizable brands internationally. In the 2015 ad, “Pepsi Pakistan Ramadan,” viewers watch a group of guys walking, talking, and drinking Pepsi from plastic bottles together. As one gentleman goes to throw out his empty plastic bottle, a man grabs it from him and smiles. A next scene is a group of kids playing with empty Pepsi bottles. The same man can be seen, picking up a bottle and smiling, much to the confusion of those around him.
Following that scene, a group of women are laughing when another woman (a celebrity) casually takes the empty plastic Pepsi bottle from them and walks away smiling. Then a group is having dinner and a woman (another celebrity) spots a, you guessed it, empty bottle and smiles. This takes viewers to a recycling plant, a subliminal message to consumers that recycling plastic is important. Where our smiling man from the first scene hauls away a plastic bag filled with empty plastic Pepsi bottles.
The fate of the bottle collection is gradually revealed, as each bottle is used as a recyclable lantern to illuminate the streets and area surrounding a mosque. An elderly lady is rejoicing and (non-verbally) thanking another celebrity gentleman. She’s brought to tears by the beautiful array of recycled illumination with the catchphrase “lighting up lives this ramazan,” displayed at the end of the ad.
Once again, we see the collectivist society at work. Each scene features togetherness, attachment, a proud display of roots; and the message is (non-verbally) endorsed by notable celebrities. Each act has a greater purpose. The family ties are rich and prominent in this advertisement. It evokes emotion and shows the power of a community. In short, this advertisement is “other serving,” meaning the key characters, similar to the Surf characters, were completing tasks for the benefit of others.
The 2009 UK advertisement for Pepsi Max opens with three men at a bar checking out women. A woman sits at the bar reading a book. The guy in the middle of his friends is encouraged on to talk to her, but first, he must drink a Pepsi Max. After consuming the beverage, it can be surmised that the man gained newfound confidence to approach the young woman. His friends psych him up and he approaches the woman with her book at the bar. She gets ready to greet him but he passes her by for a woman who looks like a supermodel. She has long hair, a tight dress, and exudes sexuality, something the first woman did not do. The guys in the booth cheer on their friend as he approaches the vixen. She bites her lip in anticipation, but he passes her by. Confused, the men watch their friend as he approaches another man at the bar and smiles. The men continue to be confused as it appears the Pepsi Max gave their friend the courage to ask a man out instead of one of the women. The commercial ends.
Meant to be funny and with a twist on the traditional used in mainstream advertising, it is clear this commercial is motivated by self-serving individuals. There is no greater community-based meaning within this ad. It focuses on personal esteem and is bold in challenging the status quo.
There are many advertising examples that can be compared for a study of consumer needs based on country. One thing is prominently clear in the case study presented: Pakistani consumers are driven by collective advertising and emotional motivation to serve others. This leaves them with a “feel good” taste in their mouths. The product has ethics and morals that align beautifully with the Pakistani culture.
Imagine if we switched these four advertisements and showed them in opposite countries. It is safe to assume that they would not be received as warmly as their respective ads were in the past. Pakistani consumers may be offended by the indulgent and sexualized nature of both UK advertisements. The UK counterparts would find the traditional Pakistani values displayed within the advertisements unrelatable at best.
If anything, these examples truly illustrate the importance of relationship-first marketing for Pakistani consumers followed by the value of the product.
For each of the four following videos, choose appropriate descriptions from the list below:
Community; Personal Esteem; Daring; Unorthodox; Conventional / Orthodox; Celebrity Endorsement; Indulgence; Bold; Social Entrepreneurship; Attachment with Roots; Relationships; Non-verbal Communication.
- Explain each advertisement in the cultural context and assign appropriate descriptors in the notes section.
- Do you think these campaigns in their respective countries were effective?
- Can we switch countries for these advertisements?
References and interesting links
World Ultra Wealth Report 2019 - https://www.wealthx.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Wealth-X-World-Ultra-Wealth-Report-2019.pdf
Jean-Pierre Coene & Marc Jacobs (2017) - Negotiate like a local – 7 Mindsets to increase your success rate in international business. Helsinki, Finland: Hofstede Insights.
Geert Hofstede, Gert Hofstede and Michael Minkov (2010) - Cultures and Organizations – Software of the Mind. McGraw Hill.
- Hofstede Insights – Country Comparison Tool: https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/