Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Losing my nationality

Published in Mar-Apr 2012
Should Indian campaigns cross the border and be appreciated in Pakistan? Can a local ad do the same?

Should creativity have a nationality? How far can a good idea travel? Should Indian campaigns cross the border and be appreciated in Pakistan? Can a local ad do the same?

From 1964 until the late 90s, the media in Pakistan was very strict about what made it to the airwaves. We had popular English programmes like Six Million Dollar Man, Knight Rider and Air Wolf (among others), giving us a foreign flavour, but the rest was all good quality homemade content, such as dramas, sitcoms, talkshows and brand commercials that would keep us entertained. Jingles for brands such as Bata, Binaca and State Life are still remembered today. In early 2000, we converted from a single television channel to a multiple channel universe. Even when this transformation was taking place, the one thing that was guaranteed was that content would be homegrown. As the bouquet of satellite channels started to increase and the TRP fight heated up, a shift took place whereby a lot of content came from India, including Bollywood songs and Star Plus dramas.

Illustration by Creative Unit.
Illustration by Creative Unit.

Today, the fixed point chart of any channel in any given week has approximately 20-30% Indian content and for music channels a good 60-70% of the content consists of Bollywood songs. Throughout this period, the one industry which defended itself against any sort of foreign invasion was the advertising industry. We took pride in conceiving an idea and producing it locally. The only time we looked abroad was for the production of the content, and that too only in dire circumstances, such as non-availability of a director, budgetary issues, technical requirements or location issues. However, whatever had to happen was done under the supervision of the local agency. This practice improved the overall production values and helped local production houses gain expertise. The directors also knew that they had to bring their ‘A’ game to every project and deliver beyond expectations.

However, the latter part of the last decade saw the advertising industry falling for the glitz and glam of foreign advertisements. Long before the upheaval started in Pakistan’s advertising-scape, MNCs were pushing the globalisation process, airing foreign-made ads to enhance their brands’ global presence. India, however, remained a no-go area. In fact, certain brands would not even advertise in slots that aired Indian content and PTV as per its policy would not air any TVCs that featured Indian talent. Today, our airwaves are full of Indian commercials. Rather than globalisation, we have fallen into ‘Indianisation’. So what is the big deal about airing Indian ads?

Creativity without borders

“Because the ads are ‘Indian’” doesn’t qualify as an answer. We need to set aside our emotions and approach this discussion with progressive thinking. I spoke to several local ad people and read many blogs. Each conversation started with an initial push back to ‘Indianisation’ followed by a rationale.

A friend who works for an MNC was clear in stating that there are pros and cons to using Indian ads. Pros, because it is cost effective, there is celebrity appeal and it leverages global best practices. Cons, because it discourages local creativity and employment opportunities, and hampers the growth of local talent. At the end of the day it really depends on the brand and how easily the communication translates into this market.

Then there are the global brands that need to maintain their brand essence. Yet, in every market they adapt if the market focus and brand pull requires it.

In the case of Pakistan, we should not perceive this as ‘Indianisation’ but take it as brands leveraging on regional commonalities.

Indian celebrities have a huge fan following in Pakistan and the revival of cinema is a testament to it. Why shouldn’t brands capitalise on this opportunity? Take Katrina Kaif’s recent commercials for different brands, which are conceived and shot in India; most of the ideas have universal appeal and are simple enough to be carried across borders. So far, so good. However, do these ads pass the cultural relevance filter? The answer would be a clear ‘no’ in many cases. Culturally we are still conservative and the only action such ads induce is to switch to another channel, whereas the goal of a TVC is to reach an audience and deliver a branded message. (As an aside, if the goal were to deliver a bold message I think Veena Malik would have done a better job.) Take the example of Samsung’s current ads. One of them shows a girl clad in jeans and a shirt leaning against a wall next to a roadside dhaba talking to her friends and drinking chai. Does this happen in Pakistan? The setting is relevant to India but not Pakistan. The tagline states ‘Pakistan smart bun raha hai’ whereas the brand is really fooling us. Then why should I buy the product?

This doesn’t mean that everyone gets it wrong. An ad for (a classifieds website which operates in India and Pakistan) features two brothers having a discussion, with one brother trying to convince the other that he should sell this motorbike. The idea is universal and the humour is relatable and that’s all the relevance you really need. If it resonates with me then I will enjoy it, regardless of the fact that it is Indian. But if I don’t connect with it, then no Pappu or Shahrukh (Pepsodent) will make a difference.

Killing creativity?

A conclusion that can be drawn from this is that it’s OK to air Indian ads if they meet the relevance factor and fall under a global campaign domain. Based on this, it is fair to speculate that there will be more such campaigns in the future. This is good news for media buying houses as they will end up sustaining their business volume and with the market becoming more neighbour-friendly, they might even see growth. On the other hand, this trend is alarming for creative agencies already affected by this fascination for all things Indian. They are likely to see fewer commercials with the ‘made in Pakistan’ tag. ‘Indianisation’ will mean a further dip in overall agency business and pressure on remuneration, which can only mean cutting down on full service agencies and creating smart set-ups, which can serve as dispatchers but not creative thinkers. Such pressures kill creativity, which is certainly not the need of the hour for a growing industry like ours. Employment opportunities and growth prospects for people associated with the creative field will stagnate in an industry which previously gave global communication to Coke, Mobilink, Mountain Dew and other prominent brands.

Local celebrities will continue to feel the pinch and go across the border to work in Indian movies and songs, creating a huge vacuum in terms of local brand ambassadors.

In addition, local celebrities will continue to feel the pinch and go across the border to work in Indian movies and songs, creating a huge vacuum in terms of local brand ambassadors.

The onus is on the creative agencies and brands to convert yesterday’s Gujjar into today’s Indigo man. If brands want to make it big in Pakistan they need to support the learning curve of the industry, not threaten to destroy it. Global brands are the reason for the progression of creativity in India and global learning has played a huge role in what they have achieved. Over the years, local agencies have done a great deal to help global brands establish a foothold in Pakistan and for sustained growth this process has to continue.

To sum up, a universal idea will have universal citizenship.

As long as it is culturally sound and relevant, inspires, improves local production standards, introduces new ways of thinking, challenges technologically but most importantly, doesn’t hinder local growth and creativity, it will be embraced.

Ali A. Rizvi is COO, Interflow Communications.


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Comments (36)

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ROSHAN Mar 29, 2017 09:21am

Every existential problem of identity is always facing Pakistan, one wonders why? If you start airing dubbed chinese ads i wonder if such vociferous reactions would follow. It is undeniable that the Indian brand works in Pakistan and as long as it does this influence will remain.Given this appeal the relevance or the irrelevance of the message will not count.

Khaled Mar 29, 2017 09:38am

What's the harm?where we not part of the subcontinent?

silver Mar 29, 2017 09:41am

Cultural imperialism of india must be resisted. China, Iran and even India does the same. Under the pretext of creativity, submission to imperialism is being promoted.

Atticus from india Mar 29, 2017 09:42am

Interesting article. It makes more financial sense to use same ad film in as many markets as possible. Many MNCs use global ads with change of soundtrack. Sometimes we have directions to shoot country agnostic ads. So, the matter is purely commercial and not about promoting creativity/advertising industry in any country. There is an opportunity for Pakistani directors to do small budget, but cutting edge work that gets noticed globally. Work will automatically flow to Pakistan. Good ideas and execution skills are more important than high budgets.

TK Mar 29, 2017 09:43am

Problem is, if you are a progressive Pakistani, you will never understand what Pakistan is about, and why it chose to be a separate country in the first place. These ads just put a fine point on that modern Pakistani conundrum.

christo joseph Mar 29, 2017 10:17am

truth is, Indians has more experience and makes better ads.

jssidhoo Mar 29, 2017 10:31am

Open up not close down

giri Mar 29, 2017 10:47am

It is obvious Pakistani people are huge fan of Indian movies and celebrities. No power in the universe can change this reality.

PakiForum Mar 29, 2017 10:51am

Not at all. Are Pakistani campaign used across the border. The answer is never.

ebad Mar 29, 2017 11:02am

foreign advertisement will always portray a foreign culture. Advert and sales correlations are vague hence Its about time that companies start taking a customer feedback. only then will they be able to realize that local creativity is more compelling.

KUNAL MAJUMDAR Mar 29, 2017 11:25am

Being in this profession in India, would suggest Pakistan to develop its own idiom in advertising. A story well told works, doesn't matter from which side of the border it comes from. Study the work produced by Thailand in advertising. You'll get the drift.


smaller brother always tries to admire and wear olders clothes and other things .

sanjeev kumar Mar 29, 2017 11:40am

If you divide a melon then all the part wil taste like melon.So do not be apprehensive with Indian Contents.Why don't you try to be a player in such a big market called India. Just think over it.

GraveProblem Mar 29, 2017 11:47am

more pakistani generated content should be shown

example - Angel song by Taher Shah

Hemant Mar 29, 2017 12:30pm

Writer assumes that india has singular cultural entity and Pakistan also a singular cultural entity and they are different! Fact is that india has many people who are exactly like Pakistan! Choice of viewing an ad is done by the consumer, not based on country, race or religion but what entertains him. Marketing budgets are allocated based on number of consumer can get approached and resulting business from it. Ad Budgets are not allocated to groom artistic journey of the nation!

If you continue to groppel in nationalistic tune in every step of executing business, you will neither do justice to business nor to art!

Why now Mar 29, 2017 12:34pm

why is this article with a 2012 dateline published 5 years hence?

Rogue Mar 29, 2017 01:01pm

Many Indian ads are good but subtle hints in environment, personalities and mannerisms give away their non-Pakistani nature even if they are pretending otherwise. That automatically creates a sort of 'otherness' in, well, my mind. May be it is just me. And the Katrina Kaif ad which is pictured here, was too suggestive for primt time TV in Pakistan. The sexualisation of cinema happened over the late 80s and 90s and is not the global 'normal'. Exactly what needs to be avoided in family television here.

R S Chakravarti Mar 29, 2017 01:03pm

You can't compete on size with the Indian market. Unless Pakistan gets a comparable population some day!

YAmir yatskin Mar 29, 2017 01:18pm


Jawad Mar 29, 2017 01:38pm

Are the ads from india in pakistan are from North India or south India??

Just Someone Mar 29, 2017 03:06pm

We need to cast local talent in our ads and limit the number of international ads that can be shown.

KT Mar 29, 2017 03:06pm

Fathers of Katrina and Nargis Fakri are of Pakistani origin hence these actress should be given opportunity to act in Pakistani movies.

jA-Australia Mar 29, 2017 03:39pm

Everyone's grandma said it best: No one else will respect you if you don't respect yourself.

Waheed Mar 29, 2017 03:53pm

Indian ads should be banned. Multi national companies should work with Pakistani companies and local celebrities to contribute to Pakistan economy. Plus I think some Indian ads are just too vulgar. You can't have a local celebrity doing what Katrina does in a veet or mango juice ad. It won't be accepted by the public. So basically we are hypocrites. We can't accept if a local tv celeb wears what Bollywood girls do on tv but it's ok if they do it

Ramachandran Kannan Mar 29, 2017 03:56pm

I do not understand what the writer is conveying. In the past , there were restrictions on foreign made advertising which afforded some protection to local industry. What impact it made on quality is not clear even if the writer believes it was good. The article then criticises some specific ads. This is best left to market place to decide what is better. At the end, it is a plea to ban Indian ads for commercial reasons. That is a decision for the Pakistani government to make but then let it be a straight forward request for protection instead of talking about relevance etc.

K SHESHU BABU Mar 29, 2017 04:21pm

As long as both nation's people work on exchange of ideas, there is no reason for borders to create hindrance in mutual exchange of culture and ideas. Only when the intent is exploitation of each other, the trouble arises. So, people must come forward to exchange freely their ideas and culture irrespective of political positions of the governments...

Sid Mar 29, 2017 05:27pm

These adds when produced in India and released globally would attract more money for individuals and company involved in its production. This inturn will help Indian Govt to get more interm of taxes. Whereas since the production is out of Pakistan.. there will be no revenue for govt.. Its in a way an outsourcing model where in if adds made out of country comes out to be a cheaper option. Now why because indian people is the closest match to pakistani people. In this article the commercial factor was not touch based, which is the biggest reason for having Indian adds.

KhWarizmi Mar 29, 2017 06:24pm

To be honest, we need to shud down our embassy in Delh and put India on hold as long as Hindu extremists are in power in that county and as long as Fghanistan is being used by RAW to export terrorism.

Krish chennai Mar 29, 2017 06:51pm

Get Pierce Brosnan to come in a classic James Bond outfit to promote pan masala - yeah, will work in Pakistan and India ? Not to forget to put a clause it's harmful for human consumption too.

ayza Mar 30, 2017 01:59am

I strongly believe that it's vital ad campaigns shown on Pakistani media outlets be produced, directed and acted by Pakistanis since it's patently apparent that Indian channels won't air or accept Pakistani produced ads with Pakistani actors.

Vatsyayan Mar 30, 2017 01:59pm

@KT Katrina's Father is a Kashmiri Indian and not pakistani

raj kumar Mar 30, 2017 08:25pm

@KhWarizmi totally agree with you,stop everything related to India and we both should go our own ways.

Amit Mudgill Mar 30, 2017 10:29pm

Would you have liked to watch Jurassic Park-- Made in Pakistan? Or for that matter, Titanic with Pakistani actors? Well, developing countries are bound to see growth, but they have to catch up. India can now make Hollywood movies of 90s or early 2000s, but that, after years of local experience. India could not stop its citizens to watch Jurrassic Park in 90s. Gradually , over a period of time, the technology gap is narrowed. ISRO coud have been successful in making engines, landing to moon decades back, had not US bar access to technology. You ban things, you don't learn what peers are up to. Slowing you'll not be in race at all.

Sanjay Rao Mar 31, 2017 09:01am

Whoever can market it better will be the winner end of the day. Whether it is state's border or country's border. If you just change Pakistan in this article to Karnataka and this article could be published in Bangalore as nowadays every Kannada song is sung by Shreya Goshal and Sonu Nigam. It is time to stop this nonsense and just appreciate creativity. One of my friends, a die-hard fan of Atif Aslam stopped listening to his songs after I told him he is from across the border - utter nonsense.

Yaa Mar 31, 2017 11:00am

What about dubbed Chinese ads

Zohaib_Hasan Apr 01, 2017 11:22am

Categorical examination reveals that Pakistani industry is suffering huge economical loses. So, when India bans Pakistani content, why should Pakistan promote theirs?