We sat down with Ali to ask him three key questions as part of our journey to get inspired and spread their inspiration.
Ali Shaikh began his career at Unilever; developing the popular tea brand ‘Lipton’ in Pakistan. He then moved to Mondelez where he was the key person responsible for rapidly developing the brands ‘Oreo’ and ‘Tang’ in the MEA market, and positioning both of them as category leaders. He’s also the man behind the launch of the popular kid’s snack brands ‘Prince’ and ‘Barni’, both of which are key players in the market. Currently he is the Commercial Director for the MEA region at General Mills.
Q1) What inspired you to become a marketer?
My curiosity; while I was in business school I realized that none of the decisions we make are truly our own. I mean, everything we choose, from the cars that we buy and the clothes that we wear are not really governed entirely by the people around us, meaning our friends and family. There is some brand manager, some thinking, somebody working on our mind somewhere to influence what we “choose”. I thought of marketeers almost as puppeteers, who, through various levels of messaging, exposure and stimulus, make people prefer their brand over competitors’. For example, there are so many things we don’t need in our lives, from carbonated drinks to fancy cars to expensive clothes yet they are an integral part of our lives. This demonstrates the influence communication has on our behaviour.
This power of behaviour analysis and influence was a profound discovery for me. Hence, I chose marketing as a profession to pursue.
Q2) What single trend, you think, is going to be most important for marketing in Saudi Arabia in the next 5 to 10 years? (Inspire us with the what, why, who and how of your answer)
"The impact of this tax on carbonated beverages and tobacco is going to spill over across all the food categories"
I honestly think there are some watershed moments in the history of consumer habits in the marketplace, and I’m talking specifically about food because that’s the industry I’m in. So, I think the recent sugar tax, or the tobacco tax is going to have a fundamentally game changing impact on the market in terms of people and the market as a whole. We’ve grown up in the middle east being told that people are struggling in terms of diabetes and in terms of their weight and yet there is no distribution of even some of the most basic healthy products. But when you look at consumer needs and everything else, there is always a need for healthier products to battle obesity and for general health awareness. The impact of this tax on carbonated beverages and tobacco is going to spill over across all the food categories. Suddenly you’re going to see a lot of natural and organic and ‘better-for-you’ products emerge in the marketplace. Because, Saudi Arabia is unique in the sense that despite having some of the highest obesity and diabetes rates, there are few healthy food choices avail. In my opinion, the government discouraging sugar and tobacco consumption, will create a huge paradigm shift in the country across all industries.
Q3) Pick one: On brand but less creative OR Off brand but very creative?
I think the most important aspect of a campaign nowadays is stopping power. People are watching Netflix on TV and skipping all ads on YouTube and other social media. No one is actually watching the adverts anymore. So, for digital and social advertising, I think the most important thing is creativity, i.e., stopping power. I know practically everyone has their phones with them while watching TV. As soon as what they’re watching goes on an ad break, they start scrolling through their phones. So being “On Brand” or “Off Brand” comes at a very later stage. The first and most important thing is to be clutter breaking, i.e., creative.