How a ketchup brand in Pakistan beat rivals and grew sales by 125 percent with an online learning show

National Foods Limited (NFL) reinvented online education for children and managed to drive marketing and business success across Asia.

Ketchup manufacturer National Food Limited sought to cement its market-leading position by establishing clear-cut differentiation on product and image superiority. It achieved this by launching National Ketchup Factory, a digitally led branded content programme designed to make learning fun for children, a key target segment for their brand. 

Challenge -  rising competition and discounters

Founded back in 1970 in Pakistan, NFL became an established market leader in six categories with an international presence in 40 countries including USA and Canada. 

Out of those six categories, National Ketchup (Tomato Ketchup + Chilli Garlic) holds majority market share within a Pakistani market worth around PKR 7billion in total. Other players in the category include Shangrila and Knorr. 

NFL built this leadership through high-quality product standards at affordable prices, continuous product quality testing and innovation, strong distribution network and, above all, investing in brand-building and creating meaningful and relevant connections with audience market segments. 

In recent years however, NFL has faced tough competition from Shangrila, who adopted a more aggressive approach on trade via discounts/incentives. Moreover, the overall category was established on functionality, with all players communicating on similar lines. NFL needed to establish a clear differentiation from its competitors to maintain its position as the unchallenged market leader.

The key marketing objectives were established as:

  1. Build Brand Equity by +0.2 percent, preference by +1 percent, and loyalty (BUMO) by +3 percent 

  • Improve brand Imagery on superiority +4 percent 

  • Consumer insights - COVID school closures drive education videos

    Although the primary audience for ketchup is was mothers aged between 20 to 35 years, 50 percent of the consumption is driven by children, who influence these gatekeepers’ decisions. Demand for ketchup has been growing, especially from mothers wishing to make snacks and food fun to eat for children with picky tastes.

    Research identified that these women are social media hungry, have thrifty tendencies and their biggest dilemma is being time-poor. They struggle to balance multiple chores and do not have enough time to supervise their children every moment, often relying on video content to keep their children engaged. 

    It also shoed that video education content online is the fastest growing medium, Pakistani television includes very little local programming. Viewership trends and audience insights indicated that the top content consumed on TV/Digital was around animated cartoons, and mainly Indian/foreign content). 

    This situation was further accelerated by COVID-19 and school closures, where social listening and search trends indicated that mothers are increasingly concerned by the lack of localised entertainment and educational content for their children. They wanted to discover new ways for their children to learn, as well as find new ideas for making food seem 'fun'.

    Strategy - creating 132 personalised video ads for a learning show 

    It was decided that an insightful, sustainable, fun, modern and scalable concept was required; one that combined fun and learning while building and strengthening the connection between the mother and her child via skill development activities.

    To that end they invented the ‘National Ketchup Factory’, a unique digital show hosted by children for children and creating ‘fun’ through the use of 'food + ology' (a subject of study), focusing on distinct themes like science, arts & craft, music, marine biology, animals & wildlife, and (above all) food. The programme was clearly positioned around making learning fun for children, just like National Ketchup makes food fun to eat. 

    Targeting restrictions on under 18s audiences through digital meant reaching the core audience – children – was a challenge. Therefore, a multi-touchpoint IMC strategy was designed not only to reach children (through their direct signals and searches) but mainly their parents (as key content gatekeepers for children), using a mix of communication platforms. 

    A robust platform connection architecture was put into place where YouTube was the main hub for episode launch (since it had the highest audience base of parents) with TV, Social, Display, Search and PR seamlessly tied back to it. All platforms were chosen intelligently, based on the audience size available as well as the core communication objectives served. 

    The show was digitally-led and consisted of 12 episodes with three segments per show – creative workshop, natwiz (team-up quiz), lunch box segment and duration ranging from 13-19 minutes. Since it was a new content programme for a very targeted segment, it was essential to establish awareness about the programme and its relevance. 

    A picture containing text, person, screenshotDescription automatically generated

    Using audience insights for parents, data from the top 100 children channels and Google’s creative support (Director’s Mix); 132 personalised 10sec units were created, showing the most relevant messaging based on the audience interest and search history and linking it with the Ketchup Factory content to impart an understanding of the programme content.

    Where TV and YouTube were used to raise awareness about the programme and content airing, display banners were used to retarget viewers who had viewed one episode and serve reminders to watch subsequent episodes. 

    An always-on YouTube Search and Google Search was activated on top searches for children/education/cartoons to improve discoverability of the program, so as to capture relevant hand-raisers already looking for similar solutions. 

    Social and PR, on the other hand, were leveraged to engage the audience and generate word-of-mouth via mommy celebrities and key influencers. Each episode had a separate visual identity, and content was tailored accordingly, disseminated via NFL social media pages, bloggers’ stories/posts and watch parties hosted within parents closed group communities on Facebook, such as Babies & Bumps, Karachi School Guide and Super Creative Mamas. 

    The program airing stretched over a span of three months (airing from Oct 2020 to Jan 2021) with all platforms activated to not only launch the program but also sustain the momentum throughout the three-month period. 


    • NFL not only managed to grow its sales by 125 percent against planned budget numbers but also experienced a net gain of 3.4 percent in market share (Sept 2020 to Jan 2021) while the program was airing. The brand saw an increase in equity index from 8 to 8.4 (Sept 2020 v Jan 2021) as well as a significant improvement in its image as a premium brand by 6 percent.
    • Market share had been stagnant in the previous years, however this initiative took market share from Shangrila in terms of volume and value share on a MAT level this year v past year. Not only has NFL’s market share increased this year v the previous, but it also particularly increased during the airing period (Oct 2020 to Jan 2021). 

    • In terms of the brand funnel, there was a net increase of 4 percent in Brand Used Most Often (an indicator for Brand Loyalty) and TOM [Top OF Mind] awareness increased from 76 percent in Sept 2020 to 82 percent in Jan 2021.

    • The brand also improved in terms of multiple imagery drivers with significant improvement across all imagery parameters in Jan 2021 v Sept 2020.

      It is a premium brand


      It is a child’s favourite brand


      Uplift’s mood/gives happy feeling


    • The YouTube Channel reflected unprecedented growth – subscribers grew by 1502 percent and channel views experienced a 61 percent spike compared to the past three-month period when National Ketchup Factory wasn’t airing.
    • YouTube community grew by 58 percent.
    • Facebook Engagement Rate: 57 percent.
    • Customised messaging via the YouTube’s Director’s Mix alone generating an interaction rate (clicks/views) of 51 percent v industry benchmark of 38 percent.
    • An online survey conducted amongst parents who had seen the episode indicated a strong association between National Ketchup Factory and building children’s knowledge, skill development and making learning fun. At least 78 percent of the respondents responded positively, indicating that the program delivered on all the above fundamentals.

    Why this matters

    Building on the right brand experience can help drive both commercial and marketing success. The key is to establish a strong relevance between the consumer and brand. Against a backdrop of ever more advertising clutter, relevant messaging drives greater receptiveness from audiences, especially ads that are precisely targeted to match the user context and behaviour. This was reflected in the National Ketchup Factory Director’s Mix campaign, which surpassed all internal and industry benchmarks on interactivity because it customised messages and showed the most relevant message based on the viewers’ searches.

    When it comes to branded content, the key to success is not only to launch the content but also sustain its momentum throughout, making sure viewers are hooked and advocate loyalty for the same. A strong understanding of the audience via data and insights can help to launch content. But to truly engage them throughout the journey requires a deep-dive into what peaks audience interest and what does not. Consequently, those findings should be used to test, learn and optimise.