Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Advertising Rehab

Published in May-Jun 2017
A detox guide for advertising junkies on how to break out of the rut and come out as a 'normal' human being.
Illustration by Creative Unit.
Illustration by Creative Unit.

This is an intervention. You have endured Pakistan’s advertising and marketing industry for way too long. You are showing all the symptoms of a classic marketer and trust me, it is not a good thing. You need help.

Welcome to Advertising Rehab!

The first stage for a junkie is denial. Here’s a quick test to see whether you need to take the programme.

1.) When was the last time you went to work at 9:00 a.m. and came back at 5:00 p.m.?
a) Yesterday
b) A week ago
c) That one day in August 2012

2.) Bangkok is a lovely city in Thailand known for its:
a) Beaches
b) Ladyboys
c) Post-production facilities

3.) When someone asks you about the three magic words, you immediately think:
a) I love you
b) God is great
c) Call to action

4.) When you see a bad TVC, you:
a) Hate it
b) Ignore it
c) Try to imagine what the original concept may have been before they ruined it

If you answered c for all the above, you are probably an insecure, egoistic maniac, hell-bent on spreading the tentacles of consumerism, while simultaneously, severely jaded about this perverse act of economic persuasion. Admit it, you have a problem. But all is not lost. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to break out of the rut and come out as an (almost) fully-functional, normal human being.

Step one: Dishonesty Detox
Take an A4-sized piece of paper and bullet point everything you can do (in terms of professional skills). On the other side of the paper, write down what you can’t do (because you don’t have the skills, experience, capacity or capability). Get an extra sheet of paper (or five) if the second part doesn’t fit on one side. Now take a highlighter, and mark all the things that you can’t do, but have claimed to be able to pull off in front of the client/agency. Take a long hard look at the largely yellow papers in front of you.

As advertising professionals, we are in the business of making up stuff. Whether it’s the little white one, like claiming the classic “the file is huge, it’s taking time to render” to buy time, or the sinister habit of building in margins on your cost sheets. Sometimes it’s something as aspirational as borrowing the neighbour’s office, so that your agency appears larger than it is; at other times, it’s something as innocent as adding more client logos to your portfolio than you actually work for. Don’t be fooled, all of these are classic signs of dishonesty.

My suggestion is that you start an experimental cleanse. Starting tomorrow, consciously make an effort not to lie (exaggeration counts!) and do it for three days. Then, take a day’s break from brutal honesty (schedule all client visits then) and then try honesty again for four days. Increase incrementally until completely rid of the bad habit. Trust me, cut down on this and you will see fewer client disappointments, decreased screw-ups and reduced levels of guilt.

Step two: De-Jargonising
This is a tough battle because it is so deeply embedded into the fabric of advertising. From the pitch, to the brief, to the proposals, all the way to the results, everything is laced with jargon. It has many names; some call it hyperbole, others manjan bechna, some oddballs refer to it as strategy. But at the end of the day, it is just a reliance on fancy words to cover up for lack of quality content. Don’t take this lightly; this jargon-spewing lifestyle is terribly addictive.

It starts out innocently with the FYRs and the PFAs, but slowly, you build up tolerance, until one day you are pitching to a client about a paradigm-shifting engagement strategy that relies on authentic conversations optimised for reach and disruptive ROIs. Throw in buzzwords like virality, 360-degree and unverifiable claims about how TV is dying, and you have a problem on your hands. A drastic way to cure this is switching to Urdu for a few days. Since it is a horde language, it tends not to support hollow, yet technical, marketing jargon very well. Write emails in Roman Urdu, make presentations in Urdu and go all out in embracing it as a form of communication. It will take you out of your comfort zone and force you to communicate in simple language.

Step three: Unplug Therapy
I must confess I get jittery if my phone’s battery runs out and I’m left to fend without the comfort of my smartphone. Although this is expected of any Millennial, it is in advertising that this sort of dependency on technology gets out of hand. If your workday starts with a CTRL + N, followed by typing f (auto-complete adds ‘acebook.com’) and pressing enter, you need help.

Remember the time when the office internet went down, and you had to (ugh) face the analogue world? This sort of digital dependency is remarkable in the sense that it is tailored to each individual’s functional environment. For people in art direction, the dependence might be on browser staples like Shutterstock.com (or ImagesBazaar if the client is looking for local faces). For copywriters, there is always something on AdsOfTheWorld.

The best way to deal with this is to call on your offline support systems. Chuck away your phone, put an auto-responder on your email informing everyone that you are going off the grid and need to be contacted face to face. A little drastic, but it’s precisely this sort of cold turkey treatment that works. You might feel queasy in the beginning, but let it settle. Go meet your family and see what nice people they are. Especially popular these days are ‘do nothing’ yoga sessions, where you are forced to sit (without a smartphone) and do nothing. It’s brutal, but it works.

Step four: Cliché Cleansing
This is by the far the toughest challenge because the dependency increases with every year spent in the industry. When most people go into advertising, they are bursting with energy, enthusiasm and experimental ideas. Slowly, through a painful process of denial, client disapproval and systemic negative reinforcement from more experienced ad people, this enthusiasm is killed off and is replaced by the hardest known substances in the industry. I’m talking jingles, song-and-dance routines, side-by-side comparisons, and pointless celebrity endorsements (Hi, Wasim Akram!). These are the clichés of Pakistan’s ad scene and they are so entrenched in our structures and mindsets that they are always the go-to option. Many have tried to resist, but eventually, the system clobbers you into submission.

There is an experimental treatment for this, but it’s not for the weak of heart. The idea first occurred to fitness procrastinators who wanted to publicly commit to their fitness goals by announcing them to the world; they were then able to follow through because they were afraid of reneging on their public commitment. Given how narcissistic we advertising folks are, the same principle can work here. Just make a public announcement (industry-wide email, massive Facebook update, whatever) that you are committing to the fight against clichés. Soon, those who have succumbed to this temptation will be jealous of your ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude and will be hell-bent on publicly berating you as soon as you succumb to clichéd concepts.

This list is by no means complete. However, based on personal experience, I can assert that if you address the above issues, the effects of an entrenched advertising mindset will start to dissipate. One thing is for sure; the problem is real. Unfortunately, the editor of this publication won’t let me hijack any more pages to this noble rehabilitation effort, no matter how much I try to convince her that it’s all for the well-being of us advertising industry junkies.

Don’t settle. Break the status quo. You can do it!

Umair Kazi is Partner, Ishtehari. umair@ishtehari.com