As advertising executive for Saatchi & Saatchi, Sdenka Milanovic marketed laundry detergent in Pakistan, where most citizens could never even dream of owning a washing machine. Bob talks with Milanovic about the tough sell to a culture that’s baffled advertisers and the American government alike.
Marketing in Pakistan
December 8, 2001
BOB GARFIELD: Sdenka Milanovic isn't talking about laundry detergent. As an advertising executive for Saatchi & Saatchi in Pakistan until recently, Milanovic's job was to sell Ariel -- the overseas name for Tide -- in a place where, for one thing, washing machines are unheard of. So who better to ask about reaching the hearts and minds of the Afghan people? Speaking to us from her new post in Budapest, Milanovic said the first trick is to convene a focus group and listen very carefully.
SDENKA MILANOVIC: It's not the problem to convince them, but you have to make them try, and this was the challenge because there was always a perception that it's not for them.
BOB GARFIELD: How to engage Muslim civilians despite seemingly impenetrable barriers of poverty, illiteracy, and tribal traditions?
SDENKA MILANOVIC:You know we exposed them to certain commercials. We just wanted to get some kind of insights. After asking them to tell, to tell us what they really think and which one would they choose, what they said is that they wouldn't use any and if we asked why they said because, you know, we just can't use it. We don't believe in this product because it's too expensive. And this was a shock, because they know and they have perception that your brand is expensive, because it has a foreign image.
BOB GARFIELD: Unattainable -- they simply could not imagine that this was something that they could have in their lives.
SDENKA MILANOVIC:Exactly. I mean the -- something that we know that they really believe-- and they would listen are the people around them. So what the decision was to actually use "real people" having the same problems as they have and facing the same things -- talking in front of the camera about their beliefs, prejudices.
BOB GARFIELD: Their laundry beliefs and prejudices.
SDENKA MILANOVIC: Laundry. Yes. Laundry.
BOB GARFIELD: And what happened to sales?
SDENKA MILANOVIC: Well it went up, really.
BOB GARFIELD:Well think back to that focus group for a moment that was so shocking for you. Is the United States a foreign brand that Afghans and Pakistanis simply just couldn't imagine being part of their lives?
SDENKA MILANOVIC: Well I don't think so, because everything has to be put in the perspective of offering better future -- offering hope for the future -- the two main hopes for the people are to get the daughters married and to get son educated. They just ask the guy to talk in front of the camera that you know he wants to educate his children. He is poor man; he can't afford it to do it with one job. This is why he actually has to do two jobs. And because of not having enough of the clothes, his wife help him by washing with Ariel to look impeccable, and this is how he actually managed to, you know, [...?...]-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BOB GARFIELD:You understand that the United States is making preparations to do a campaign of its own in Afghanistan and in Pakistan to try to improve its image among Muslims and especially those in Afghanistan and Pakistan. What lessons that you learned selling soap powder do you think apply to what the United States should be doing in the same region?
SDENKA MILANOVIC: If you showed real willingness to help them--you know they tend to forget everything. There is no-- any logic; it's just the perception, and the real openness -- they are really fighting for life every day, and you just can't lie to them.
BOB GARFIELD: Sdenka Milanovic is a regional executive with Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising in Budapest, Hungary.