Q&A: Ujaya Shakya on Branding and Advertising to Nepal’s Evolving Consumer Class

If you want to talk business in Nepal, especially about the evolving branding and advertising industry trying to tap into the country’s emerging consumer class, then Ujaya Shakya is your guy.

Author of the book Brandsutra, Vice-president of the Advertising Association of Nepal, and Founder & Managing Director of Outreach Group, Shakya has for the past 15 years sat front seat watching Nepal’s 80% rural-based citizenry slowly plug into the global economy.

Branding in Asia recently spoke with Shakya about trends in Nepal, efforts to convince local clients on the benefits of branding, and growing opportunities for global marketers.


What have you been up to lately? 

At my agency, I am trying to enhance the exposure of my team to global trends, so they can replicate similar success stories for our clients in the Nepal market. As things change quickly these days, I strongly believe we have to keep ourselves ahead of the curve.

Also, as Vice-president with Advertising Association of Nepal, I am working hard towards creating an overall platform for Nepal in the region.

Eighty percent of Nepal’s population resides in rural areas. What challenges does that present for marketers and what can be done to overcome the challenges?

Rural opportunities are not to be neglected. The recent rise in rural household income particularly owing to the rising contribution of remittances, which is more than 25% of Nepal’s GDP, is leading to rising aspirations for a higher standard of living among the rural folks.

“With domestic clients, pitching is mostly based on remuneration and less on ideas, which makes it difficult, as it starts a vicious circle of competing in price.”


On top of that there is an evolving lifestyle orientation of rural audiences due to media penetration within Nepal and the exposure received by their family members now working and residing in the Middle East or Southeast Asian metropolitan cities. All of this is spurring consumer demand and opportunities for marketers.

What has your agency done to target the rural segment?

In fact, we are the first agency group in Nepal to strategize ideas to reach them for the brands we handle. As the rural juncture is changing in terms of economy or standards of living, it is also about the way rural Nepal is thinking, the way they are accepting trends that were once alien to them, and the sense of finding their own identity in this new setup.

In our group, we have many success stories overcoming rural challenges for our clients and turning them into opportunities for growth. We have worked for the development sector health communication initiatives where we have taken an indigenous innovative approach for communication by using street dramas, puppet shows, door to door, storytelling and haat bazaar activities to drive successes in some of the media dark areas of the country.

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We must be thankful to the brave hearted clients who were not afraid to initiate & participate in overcoming these challenges and, in the process, have won not only market share but also consumer hearts. 

You’ve said that the branding profession in Nepal does not get the respect it deserves. Can you talk about that and what you and others in the field are doing to address it?

Nepal is largely a trading-based economy, which often makes it a default for most marketers to think tactically and less thematically. But, things have been changing rapidly and domestic brands, as well as key multinational brands want to invest in creating brand stories that are relevant to Nepal.

There are example of few groundbreaking works in the recent time, which are based on enduring partnership between client and agency. So, this is an exciting time for our industry.

“It is also about the way rural Nepal is thinking, the way they are accepting trends that were once alien to them, and the sense of finding their own identity in this new setup.”

Nepal has also been hosting annual brand & advertising seminar, “Brandfest” since 2013, where we invite key speakers from around the world to share their knowledge & successful case studies during a 2-day seminar in presence of over 200 Nepalese marketing professionals from both the agency & client side.

The Himalayan Times is the organizer for this event and Outreach Nepal is the creative partner. We work together to make it a success every year with the objective of broadening the knowledge related to our industry.

What is the pitch process like?

There won’t be much difference in pitching process as it is world over, but sometimes, the pitch brief can be an issue, as it may not be very clear or objectives are mystifying.

Particularly with domestic clients, pitching is mostly based on remunerations and less on ideas, which makes it difficult, as it starts a vicious circle of competing in price. But, things are changing as many well-trained professionals are entering the system.

What are some current trends in Nepa?

Nepal is a very young country with over 72% population below 35-years-old who are open to new ideas and trends in communication. The media landscape of Nepal is also drastically changing and it is an exciting time to showcase your creativity and strategy.

Also, there are more audience segments today than before, with more specialized media content and drastically changing media habits.

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There is 90% mobile penetration with huge growth rate & demand in smartphones. Internet penetration is up to almost 40%, one of the highest in the region with data price going down and soon 4G service is expected to launch.

We have about 6.7 million Facebook users registered from Nepal and Viber has about 4.5 million registered users here. With all these changing dynamics, Nepal’s advertising industry is up for the radical change in the near future and I see a future for media neutral ideas where the key strategy will be to integrate different medium to get the impactful result.

Some of the Outreach Group’s work for Asian Paints:

Bobby McGill

Bobby McGill

Bobby is the founder and publisher of Branding in Asia.

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