Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

A year with a difference

Published in Nov-Dec 2014

What made 2014 a better year than most for the industry.

As I write this, my Facebook newsfeed is awash with the news that Malala Yousafzai has won the Nobel, Afridi has once again pulled an Afridi and Tabdeeli is in the air. Again.

As expected, the Social Media Republic of Pakistan is split neatly down the middle on all three. Perhaps the only thing that everyone seems to agree on these days is that all advertising in Pakistan is terrible and every single adman and their mouse need to be strung up. While I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to play my part in creating this wonderfully unifying sentiment, what has transpired over the past year does give me pause for thought.

Yes, we are still blissfully treading water in a sea of mediocrity. Yes, we continue to ‘noyer’. And yes, there is still no excuse for spontaneous acts of disco. But on the flip side, Ufone has regained its mojo and we have the catchiest political slogan since ‘Roti, kapra aur makaan’. Now I would not go so far as to say that this has been a good year, but I feel that it has definitely been better than the last few. Here are three things that probably made the difference:

1 The little shops that could

Look back at the most engaging work that came out this year and the odds are that you will find the name of a small-ish agency in the credits. While the big boys kept churning out big campaigns for their big clients (most of which passed like ships in the night, to paraphrase David Ogilvy), agencies like Farigh Four and Arey Wah told simple, well-crafted stories that struck a chord. The spots for Kenwood were so good that most people who saw them thought they were Indian, which is probably the saddest possible indictment of our industry. The original hotshop boys, that fantastic team that writes for Ufone, created the Gadda/Gadha ad. That for me is possibly the funniest and simplest piece of communication I have seen in a very long time. I recently came across a storyboard that was constructed entirely out of screen grabs from YouTube. No points for guessing that it came out of one of the larger agencies in the fraternity. Perhaps when you have a large portfolio of clients, the temptation to take the path of least resistance is too great. The hotshops on the other hand have neither a reputation to coast on nor do they have huge overheads to allow for. All they have is the work, and a strong desire to make their bones. More often than not, these shops are populated by people who still love what they do and it shows.

Yes, we are still blissfully treading water in a sea of mediocrity. Yes, we continue to ‘noyer’. And yes, there is still no excuse for spontaneous acts of disco. But on the flip side, Ufone has regained its mojo and we have the catchiest political slogan since ‘Roti, kapra aur makaan’.

2 The international awards

For decades the number of global awards won by Pakistani advertising agencies was exactly equal to the number of Ayaan’s Grammy’s. Sure, we had the PAS Awards but we secretly suspected that they were like the North Korean Oscars. And then suddenly Walter brought home an Effie for Pepsi’s ‘Made for Cricket’. Ali Reza Mumtaz and BBDO’s ‘Not a bug splat’ won at Cannes and his work for The Citizen’s Archive of Pakistan (CAP) was shortlisted as well. ‘Bug splat’ then went on to sweep the Spikes in Singapore, bringing home 10 trophies. What I found most interesting about these wins was that two out of the three had at their centre our national obsession… cricket. We have long known that there is a treasure trove of insights just waiting to be mined from our daily lives, and maybe, just maybe, these awards will make us look harder and longer at the work that we produce. These awards have also taken away that one size fits all excuse that we are so used to trotting out whenever we are challenged. We can now no longer blame clients for ‘not getting it’. I have long maintained that the greatest reason we are not doing better work is because we are not selling it well enough. I can tell you that right now every brief that we see at Walter has us ‘jonesing’ for that next piece of metal for our trophy case. If that’s what’s happening in other agencies in Pakistan, then we all win.

3 The jingle is back

Okay so this last one is a bit of a cheat. I am not restricting myself to just this year but to the last couple. Or three. But bear with me and maybe you will see what I mean. We all grew up with or have heard about the almost mythical power of Subah Binaca…, Aey khuda meray abbu… and Naurus le ke ghar aana. While the lack of clutter could be a big reason for these jingles to have survived the test of time, it doesn’t explain why they are the ones that are still a part of the national consciousness as opposed to a hundred others that aired at that time. Fast forward to the early part of this century and every other ad on TV had a jingle in it. Elaborate production numbers with call rates and SMS bundles cleverly insinuated into the lyrics. So cleverly that our brains decided we were not yet ready for such brilliance and as a result, we remember absolutely nothing about them. However, something seems to have happened in the last couple of years. 7Up, Aquafina, Fanta, Servis, Sprite… the unlikeliest brands have produced some incredibly memorable ditties. We find ourselves humming the tunes because they are constantly playing in our heads. And our brains approve. What is different is that we have rediscovered how melodies work and how the simplest of lyrics are the most effective in getting messages across. Not only that; a few of these jingles tell lovely stories. And we all know that as a nation, we have the knack of taking something as simple as crossing the street and spinning it into a tale to rival that of a Hollywood action/thriller.

Pity that we don’t see more of this reflected in our advertising. But hey… it’s a start.

Ali Hayat Rizvi is Chief Creative Officer, Walter.