Several years ago, I was taught a new meaning of the word checkmate.
I happened to be in Islamabad for a day and the city was full of flags put up by the Government to welcome the President of the Czech Republic. When I saw the flags, I recognised them as the Formula One chequered flag.
I was a bit distracted as we were in town for a pitch and I didn’t give the subject much thought. However, the next day, the internet and Facebook were abuzz with how the Pakistani Government had committed a blunder and posted chequered flags all over the city to welcome the Czech president.
This was not the only occasion when such goof-ups occurred at the highest level. It seems that India and Pakistan are fighting not one secret war, but many. Political sparring and military posturing aside, and forgetting the culture war and cricket, there is another battlefield. Combat is being waged between the two nations to see which government can commit the biggest blunders in their advertising.
Sadly, it seems India is winning for the moment. The Indian Government used the image of a senior Pakistani Armed Forces officer in a patriotic ad as well as photos of the Italian aerobatic team, which they had mistaken as the Indian team. As far as I know, Pakistan has shown the image of an Indian warship in an advertisement for naval exercises some years ago. I am confident however, that the Pakistani Government, if it does not take the lead, will eventually at least draw level.
As citizens, we usually look at government departments with disdain. We all dread interacting with any kind of bureaucracy and the stress-inducing ability it possesses. We also have a perception that these departments are corrupt and flawed. Generally, the corporate sector and marketing industry players are viewed with greater respect. However, it is an open secret that our marketing industry is also corrupt. We have been corrupted by the disease of being lazy. And I squarely blame the internet.
Every time plagiarism occurs, it goes viral, yet despite all the talk, not much restorative action is being taken by the industry.
Take the case of the Indian ad agency which used Italian planes instead of Indian ones for a government campaign. The error occurred because, as is normally the case, someone in the agency or the government department went on the internet to look for pictures of the Indian aerobatic team. They came across a picture of planes which were similar in colour to the Indian flag, heaved a sigh of relief and rushed off to print the ad. What they did not know was that the Indian aerobatic team, unlike the Italian one, uses propeller aircrafts.
There is an adage that says “you should be careful what you search for when using Google”, and it should be posted on the walls of all agencies and marketing departments in big, bold letters.
At a higher level of corruption is the recent trend by agencies and marketing teams to copy creative ideas and concepts both locally and internationally. Every time plagiarism occurs, it goes viral, yet despite all the talk, not much restorative action is being taken by the industry. None of the clients who commissioned copied work have been penalised or their agencies blacklisted. Unless there are serious repercussions for the act of plagiarism from bodies such as the PAS, the practice will not only continue, it will flourish. The increase in plagiarism is partly the result of avant-garde folks in the industry who openly state that copying is to be accepted if not encouraged.
Unless there are serious repercussions for the act of plagiarism from bodies such as the PAS, the practice will not only continue, it will flourish.
It is pertinent to point out that the temptation to not only search online for inspiration, but to copy and paste, is not a problem in Pakistan alone. Globally, plagiarists are not allowed to get away scot free (at least on paper). Furthermore, there are checks and balances and these are needed in Pakistan.
So how do we control lazy advertising? To do so, we must first understand the factors that cause and encourage it.
First and foremost is pressure to perform and meet expectations and deadlines. Pressure to ‘think out of the box’ and be creative. The obsession with buzzwords like creativity and innovation have become detrimental. It is like the obsession with punctuality and its effects on our society. Everyone is in a hurry not to be late in reaching their destination, even if they have left their house or office late through their own tardiness. Yes, punctuality is not a negative trait, but if you endeavour to be punctual without managing your time, more often than not, you are just paying lip service to the concept. It is the same thing with trying to be creative or innovative by searching the internet and blatantly copying.
Another reason for lazy advertising is the fact that people think, work and operate in silos. The advantages of specialisation in the digital age are more than outweighed by the drawbacks. The best marketers have always been those who have been knowledgeable not only about marketing, but about related and even seemingly unrelated fields. A good marketer needs to know about a wide variety of topics: poetry, current affairs, economics, psychology, technology, pop culture and more. Knowledge and expertise in one area, especially your professional one, eventually leads to stagnation and can be a huge factor leading to the lazy marketing phenomenon.
What is the solution? One is for marketers to adopt a culture of reading books. Two, if not at work, then at least in their social lives, marketers need to interact and meet people from other disciplines and professions – and they need not be connected directly to marketing. Three, (ironically) the internet; marketers need to spend time researching and gaining knowledge on various topics. Since reading offline seems to be out of fashion, online reading and research is a viable substitute.
Marketers looking for innovation need to be creative enough to break silos. They need to make this a daily habit and make it part of their corporate culture. Breaking silos is the most effective way to come first in the marketing race.
Tyrone Tellis is a marketing professional.