Rizwan Ullah Khan was appointed as Coca-Cola’s Country Manager for Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2005. He was one of the founding members of the American Business Forum, an association of leading U.S. organisations in Pakistan. He has also served on the Board of Directors of Pakistan Human Development Forum (National Commission for Human Development) and is a governing body member of Rising Sun Education and Welfare Society. Rizwan Ullah Khan speaks to Blue Chip about the inspiration and success of the latest season of Coke Studios and his journey and efforts behind the venture.
What role did Coca-Cola Pakistan play in launching Coke Studio season six?
Rizwan Ullah Khan: “Coke Studio is a collaborative effort between Coca-Cola Pakistan and Frequency Media (Rohail’s production house). We work together as a team, test concepts and decide the overall thematic approach of the season. Once we have decided on the direction of the season, we give Rohail the creative liberty to work his magic and create a timeless piece.”
It was apparent that there was a slight shift in the outlook of Coke Studio season six, such as different locations and the way it was filmed. Tell us a bit about that.
RK: “Everything has a time and place, and in order to be relevant we need to keep on innovating. The shift in the outlook of Coke Studio Season six was a natural evolution; we decided to take Coke Studio back to its roots. Coke Studio travelled to seven different countries to record and shoot the show, as far as the filming was concerned, it was decided that since the show is thematically focusing on going back to the roots, visually the studio environment should complement the theme. The current outlook focuses on the raw organic feel of a studio, taking our consumers one step closer to how music is actually produced.”
Coke Studio season six took an evolutionary step by bringing in musicians such as Kaw Daily Madi Sissoko from Senegal, Ziad Trabelsi from Tunisia, from the entire world fusing different genres of music this season. It clearly added a new and fascinating dimension to Coke Studio. What made you decide to make this bold step of bringing international artists for this season?
RK: “This year, Season six incorporated global music influences spanning from Fes, Morocco, to the Balkans, the Ottoman, and Kathmandu, Nepal. This new added dimension of Coke Studio Season six was introduced because of two reasons; firstly, to make Pakistani music more accessible to a global audience, and secondly to encourage international artists to adopt and integrate Pakistani music influences into their own compositions.”
You mentioned that Coca-Cola is at the forefront of new and dynamic innovation, please elaborate more on that.
RK: “Coca-Cola has always been at the forefront of new and dynamic innovation, as a company, we pay a lot of attention to societal trends and incorporate those within our business operations, be it marketing, public affairs or operations for that matter. The Small World Machine created a simple moment of connection between two divided nations, in the hope that small acts of human connection might lead to continued optimism and cultural understanding throughout the world. The campaign was executed digitally and instantly became viral garnering immense attention. In sales and operation, we came up with Coke Studio themed packaging as well as the launch of slim cans and offered drinks at an affordable value. Furthermore, this themed packaging brought our consumers closer to the asset by translating it into sales. Lastly, I would like to touch upon our public affairs department; it is through the initiatives of this department that the company earns its social license to operate in such communities. At Coca-Cola we have a diverse corporate social responsibility portfolio compromising of four focus areas in education, environment & water, sustainable agriculture and women empowerment.”
What factors do you think have contributed to the runaway success of Coke Studio?
RK: “There are many factors that have contributed to the success of Coke Studio, if I start listing them, the list will never end. But if I had to sum it up it definitely would be timing, creativity and quality. Coke Studio came at a point when the nation needed an asset that could bring the people of Pakistan together, something that resonates with the youth of Pakistan and that is exactly what Coke Studio offered. Coke Studio is a form of self-expression that not only reverberates with the people of Pakistan, but also offers an emotional connection to the asset. It took us 2 years to formalise the concept into reality, the company undertook extensive research to understand consumer trends and finally music was identified as a passion point. When we decided to launch Coke Studio, our music industry had shifted to a popular western outlook and our eastern classical music was losing momentum amongst their audience and fans. Coke Studio brought the best of both worlds through the creativity of fusing eastern and western music. We truly created a beautiful marriage between two different styles and presented it to our consumers at a quality that was overwhelmingly powerful.”
What plans does Coke Studio have for the future?
RK: “Coke Studio’s impact will be felt for years to come. Every year, we build upon the sound by adding different textures and incorporating new rhythms, by placing special importance to consumer feedback, to further improve Coke Studio.
Music is everlasting, but it is pertinent for us to differentiate ourselves, hence we will have to experiment with Coke Studio, but not compromise the values of the show which include positivity, inclusivity, optimism, relevance, enlightenment, and never being conceited or boastful and never shallow or superficial.”
How do you ensure the seamless quality with regard to the production, music, sound that you have consistently maintained over the years?
RK: “Quality is one attribute that reverberates in every operation of the company, be it marketing, creativity, public relations or our product. It is the promise of the Coca-Cola Company and it always has been, for 127 years, to provide quality products at par excellence. Thus when it came to Coke Studio, we had to ensure that the asset that we are crafting for our consumers has to be of the best quality and that it sets a higher benchmark for us to break every year. I have to personally thank Rohail and his team’s efforts in regards to production, music, and sound, the credit goes to them for creating a timeless asset that is revered for its quality and creativity. I would like to add that just in the current season, more than 3000 people have been involved in creating the show — this further reiterates our notion on quality; at Coca-Cola we never compromise on quality, rather we create benchmarks for people to follow.”
Zeb & Haniya performed ‘Lalli Jaan’ as an ode to Ahmad Zahir, the Elvis of Afghanistan, and their fascinating interpretation of the song has gained a tremendous amount of popularity, why do you think this song was so successful?
RK: “Personally I think there are two factors due to which the song has gained tremendous amount of popularity; firstly Zeb & Haniya’s single has a feel good factor to it. It is one of those songs that one listens to and one can’t help but smile, the song instantly uplifts your mood. Secondly, it is the unique nature of the song. The single is very different to what we have produced in the past, this is the first time that we have incorporated a groovy, jazz and blues feel to a Coke Studio single.”
Do you think that Coke Studio has the ability to transcend cultural barriers, ethnic age and usher in positive change?
RK: “The beauty of Coke Studio lies in its ability to transcend cultural barriers, ethnicity, age groups and social class. Coke Studio is a phenomenon that caters to a diverse music appetite but most importantly projects Pakistan through the prism of positivity. In 2010, Newsweek hailed Coke Studio as one of the greatest things to come out of Pakistan in this decade, that alone speaks volumes on the power of Coke Studio and then you can look at our numbers. Coke Studio is watched in more than 195 countries; the show has more than 95 million hits on YouTube, and more than 2.5 million fans on Facebook.”
And finally Mr. Khan, tell us about your journey with Coke Studio Pakistan.
RK: “It has been quite a journey, in these past five years Coke Studio has not only bridged tensions between traditional values & the prevalent modern culture in Pakistan but has culminated a desire in the youth for collective freedom. Coke Studio invigorates a sense of passion within Pakistan’s youth, giving them a platform with which they can not only identify with, but also aspire towards. Indeed Coke Studio has become a center of national pride and a global asset for Coca-Cola and I am very privileged to be a part of this phenomenon.”