Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

A good time to be in the communications business

Published in Nov-Dec 2014

A review of the industry in 2014 and what may be on the cards in 2015.

Once again it’s that time of the year when I get to be all wise and predict the future.

It seems 2014 has rushed past and just as we were getting started, the year is almost over. For the advertising industry it was a slowish year with the usual incremental growth due to inflation, although we finally managed to get into a faster lane thanks to the telecom companies and Arjun, Amrita, Esha, Bipasha, Jacqueline, Kareena, Sonam and Nargis, while Bhagwan-knows-who-else continued to dominate our screen space with their brand endorsements.

Looking back

The worst news of the year was the closure of a prominent advertising agency due to poor management and a lack of vision to deal with changing times. The state of affairs for the creative function is no different, with standards declining sharply. Brands which used to be beacons of creative ideas are struggling to get decent copy on air. Unfortunately, everyone and their grandma are ‘creative’, and this shows in the work that is being put out. This widening vacuum is forcing brands to look for alternative ways to achieve that memorable connect, and maybe this is the reason large chunks of budget are going to content integration. This will continue to be the case next year.

The Ramzan transmission in 2014 had to be the biggest example of content integration in terms of money spent and the worst in terms of programming in the history of Pakistani television (I might have to retract my words after looking at the 2015 transmission). A month of holiness, blessings and forgiveness was turned into begging, dancing and foolishness. Every channel stooped to the lowest possible level to gain TRPs, without thinking whether the content was appropriate or what kind of message they were trying to give their audiences. Begging is a menace, which we as a society need to discourage, yet these programmes glorified begging and made it cool. Ask nicely and you can win a suit; wink and you can win a bike; dance like a monkey and win a cooking range. And if you are good at barking and wagging your tail, you can drive off in a new car. The worst part is that some of the leading national and multinational brands endorsed this circus with millions of rupees worth of sponsorships. Only in Pakistan can the biggest con artist acquire celebrity status and become a kosher brand ambassador for detergents, cooking oil, handsets and what not. It did not stop there. Every other day various channels circulated their report card (ratings) as to whose circus was bigger and dumber. I am amazed at the collective intelligence of these educated brand custodians and channel moghuls. There is no denying that the noise level was high, but did it create an impact? The answer is NO. It was Sunday bazaar every day.

We finally were able to pull off a local production for an international reality show and not just one, but two; Pakistan Idol and MasterChef Pakistan. Pakistan Idol was the first to roll out and although the production quality was not bad, more was expected from an international franchise. The sets were shoddy and the scale of the show was compromised. What also jarred was the lack of talent from both the participants and the judges; the two key components that make any reality show a hit. This goes for both shows. The failure to attract the right participants may be attributed to the lack of hype at the beginning, and were it not for the brands taking matters into their own hands and creating the required hype, both productions would have been duds; well one of them was. As for the judges, somebody should tell them to do what they are paid to do part and not became the Socrates of this world. If we want to continue with these shows we need judges who will carry the show instead of hogging the limelight. MasterChef Pakistan was better in terms of overall production quality but it failed to create that connect and buzz and this was due to the channel’s limited distribution and lack of hype.

The launch of 3G and 4G was the highlight of the year. The wait for this technology has been a long one. High speed internet will give a huge boost to digital media, opening up exciting avenues of brand communication, making 2015 an exciting year as the creative landscape expands. New platforms will try to gain our attention and share of spend; how brands will exploit these platforms remains to be seen.

Looking ahead

Content development: 3G and 4G technology will push demand for more content. Digital agencies and production houses are gearing up to either develop or buy apps and medium-specific content. The best part is that anyone with a half decent camera and an average IQ will be able to create content and share it. No matter how funny, sad, or ridiculous the content, it will find a viewer and a life of its own. People with unfulfilled acting dreams can create their own Vimeo or YouTube channel and if the idea works they can becomes stars. Brands will need to keep their eye on the ball and identify the right content to push out to their customer base through their own dedicated channel or on the next big platform in the digital space.

Creative hotshops: A lot more creative and out of box work will come from the smaller agencies in 2015. Even in 2013 some of the award winning work was created by little known agencies and in 2014 the most talked about campaign – Kenwood – was developed by a start up agency. This has encouraged brands to try out smaller hotshops, if only on a campaign to campaign basis. While the larger agencies are busy achieving the bottom line, these smaller agencies are focusing on what matters most i.e. creativity. Creative agencies will need to bring originality to their work and break the monotony. They will need to come up with that next big thing to stay relevant and keep pushing the creative envelope to generate ideas which can be implemented across mediums and will not die out after a campaign.

Film production houses: The new buzz is making films. Prominent commercial filmmakers are focusing on bringing out the next cult film. It is good to see professionals entering this business and reviving an industry which had been on life support for ages. This will mean that music, production, acting, and everything associated with film will see improvements and this will eventually boost creative standards. These will be exciting times if you are associated with the film business, but difficult times for creative agencies because most of the creative talent will be attracted to these new avenues of opportunity.

Lack of quality HR: It has never been easy to find quality human resource in this business. Every agency’s nightmare is how to fill positions at all levels. Even if they find someone who fits the bill, by the time he or she fits into the agency’s mould, clients will poach them, leaving the agencies with the duds. In fact, it is going to be a challenge for agencies to maintain a full roster of people. Creative agencies will be at the receiving end of the poaching process and the key challenge for agencies in 2015 will be to retain talented people and keep them motivated so that they do not cross over to the celluloid world or open up a channel on YouTube and be the next viral king – or just end up confused.

Come what may this is a good time to be associated with the communications world. Whatever mode suits you, select it and start a conversation because someone somewhere will be listening to you.

Happy New Year to all, and may this year unleash the creative monster inside you.

Ali A. Rizvi is COO, Interflow Communications.