Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The absurdity of Pakistani ads

Updated Sep 07, 2015 02:19pm

From washing powder to whitening soap, Pakistani ads have one common theme - they're mediocre and absurd.

Photo: Online
Photo: Online

I am an accountant. Does life get more boring than that? Is there anything more horrific than adding up numbers for a living? Every day when I go home and sit in front of the TV, I forget the insipidity of my existence – for it is dwarfed by a momentous tsunami of mediocrity that are the advertisements which appear on our local TV channels.

Don’t get me wrong – this is not a clichéd discourse about how bad our locally produced ads are. The scope of my rant, in fact, extends beyond the (Eastern) border too, for that is where a huge portion of our ads come from. Like radiation, it invades the ads themselves, AND the concepts behind them, and the concepts behind those concepts, until it is all a green smouldering mess.

Where do we even start? Take medicated soaps. One ad trumpets the soap’s certification by some blah institute from England which bestowed their approval after 100 years of research. Hello, Mr Royal so and so, what were you DOING for the last 100 years? As far as I know, 100 years ago medicated soaps did not exist – there were just lumps of lard and bone. Even the chap putting the stamp of his gracious approval, ancient though he looks, cannot have been more than a toddler back then. One would think 100 years would be enough for the institute to invent a soap that could fight Ebola, cure hunger and bring about world peace (as the soap in question claims). Instead a good looking researcher stumbles upon it and then is shown undertaking a bit of research before incredulously sharing it with her superiors.

The same soap is being peddled through a different ad as well. In that one, a child has a stomach ache, and the mother calls out, “Coming, beta”, then promptly forgets she ever had a son and is never to be seen again in the ad. Meanwhile, dad who sitting right next to him, says that pizzas and burgers from ‘outside’ are causing the pain. The son succinctly banishes this flawed logic from overbearing parents by implying that goody two shoes dad must have suffered from the same pain in his childhood, didn’t he? The dad is appropriately dumbfounded, though it’s hard to tell because utter befuddlement seems to be the default expression for dads in our ads. And guess what? They go to the doctor and he informs them that they were using the wrong soap allowing the ‘jaraseem´ to become stronger. Hello, world, rejoice! Infected with Ebola? Change your soap. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, AIDS, a ruptured lung, heart disease? CHANGE YOUR SOAP! I can imagine all the doctors, hakeems, homeopaths, and hospital owners in the world weeping collectively after seeing this ad since it signals a sudden end to their trade. Good work guys!

And while we are at it, it seems that there is an iron-clad rule for all medicated soap ads. There is an obligatory split screen shot of a child having a bath with the ‘hero’ soap, all smiles, as if having a bath is the most enjoyable activity for a child. On the left side of the screen, the child is shown using ‘ordinary’ soap and he has an expression that suggests the soap is infested with ants that are biting him everywhere the soap touches him.

Which brings us to washing powders. Lo and behold; the intensity and quality of the sheer idiocy concentrated in this market segment is hard to fathom. There was this stupid movement a few months ago to turn washing powders into science projects to convince mums to buy them. So, one ad informed us that the dirt, grease and grime accumulated on 10 different areas of an item of clothing would be attacked directly by such and such powder. Excuse me? So only those 10 spots will be attacked? What about the other spots? Shall we buy a different powder which claims to specialise in THOSE areas? Will the day come when there will be a special powder for every square inch of a shirt?

Then there is their current ad campaign which revolves around nonsensical scenarios to encourage children to get their clothes full of grime. One ad shows a bigger child pushing a smaller one into a mud puddle.

In a scene startlingly reminiscent of saas bahu soaps where the bahu thinks it her religious duty to remain silent, even while her saas drenches her with petrol and is holding the lighted matchstick, the smaller child covers his clothes with even more mud, after which he tries to hug the child who pushed him into the mud – and... haha, ROFL etc... it turns out he was being CLEVER and actually managed to SCARE AWAY the bully by threatening to muddy his own clothes.

Why do ad agencies not realise that the average TV viewer has grown considerably smarter than their creative staff? (Sorry.)

There are other variants (unfortunately). In one, a group of children are playing football when the ball bursts. They come up with the harebrained plan of making a ball out of their shirts while a mother looks on proudly. Knock, knock – any brains in there? The kids could have bought another ball for a few hundred bucks – instead they chose to ruin 11 shirts FOREVER (no matter what the claims, washing powders are not magic). Not to mention, what a lousy ball that would have made. The ad is so wrong on so many levels.

Another FMCG brand is fond of turning all their ads into mock documentaries. So we see a popular, masoom news anchor paying a visit their research lab – which is located in Europe! - to investigate their claim that their brand can clean the toughest stains. Never mind that this claim could have easily been accomplished by actually washing some clothes with the powder right here at home. Anyway, the anchor walks up to a professor who shows him a humongous stain made of rubber (don’t ask). He demonstrates the ‘power’ of that stain by pulling it out of the cloth where it snaps right back (because it is rubber). He then proves the superiority of his creation through – wait for it – dipping a mud stained cloth in a beaker of water infused with the powder. And viola! It comes out clean! Coupled with that royal institute I mentioned earlier, the quality of research work in Europe seems to be going down a literal and figurative drain!

Why do ad agencies not realise that the average TV viewer has grown considerably smarter than their creative staff? (Sorry.)

It’s a similar story everywhere. Take floor cleaners/disinfectants. One brand insists on showing grimy toilets during prime (dinner) time. Another insists that it is OK to slurp spilt ice cream off the floor as long as the floor has been cleaned by their brand of cleaner. Still another shows a woman suffering a nervous breakdown every time she enters the washroom and sees living and dancing germs; and then she challenges them to a showdown with her choice cleaner.

Everything, from soaps to powders to dishwashing liquids to toothpaste, has to be medicated these days. One ad tells us that germs hide in clothes, another insists that no, they on the floor; still another corrects them by revealing that germs are in fact other people, so you better not touch them.

Cosmetics seem to be thriving these days. One brand, which doesn’t know whether it wants to be a moisturising soap, a shampoo or a skin cleanser, runs an ad where women are blindfolded and asked to feel the cheeks of their friends to detect what they used to wash their face. See how it reads when you write actually it down? And someone actually approved this.

Then there are the whitening soaps/creams/jellies/. A renowned TV personality tells women to be themselves, be confident, and the ideal bahu by knowing everything about cooking and cleaning. She demonstrated all this with her enormous range of totkas and now, suddenly, she has come up with her own brand of whitening cream, in sheer contradiction of roughly five centuries of her telling us that absolutely nothing can change our skin tone and we should be happy with who we are.

Every new candy, chocolate, toffee, or sweet biscuit is advertised in the same way – by making hapless schoolteachers fall, faint, stumble, go blind or insane in the face of kids armed with the said confectionery. You can substitute teacher with parent, overbearing aunt, guard, or any other relationship; the main idea is the same: parents, teachers, and other adults are running an Orwellian dictatorship designed to undermine children and they need to be taught a lesson. There is no mention of the product’s taste or attributes – it has to be a weapon against evil overlords.

Telecoms are the worst. The leading one is running this campaign where there is so much overuse of an epic score and a booming voice belonging to a well known actor/singer, complete with trumpets, violins and backing choirs, one cannot but laugh when the ad itself ends up peddling 5 Rupay mein 500 SMS. And although everything is supposed to be wireless these, their logo and graphic depict what is clearly the red version of that tangled cord we used to keep on untangling while talking on our PTCL landlines. The second largest telco meanwhile has settled on a 70s cinema vibe for its ads, which is insufficient to mask a deep lack of humour and creativity in their ads.

Tired yet? Let me finish this with a montage of idiotic images gleaned from our ads. Let’s see how many you can place!

  • A school principal has nothing better to do than to check the state of the shirts the children are wearing and then send them home if found dirty
  • A child runs around during parties and dinners, pouring laal sharbat into everything and receiving disturbing glances of admiration from an older lady
  • A newly wed woman has to appease her susar by cooking the right dessert in order to be accepted in the family
  • A medic scrapes her hands around the bottom of a toilet bowl to demonstrate its cleanliness
  • An infant picks up food from the floor while mum looks on happily
  • The perfect cure for boredom is eating a particular brand of noodles
  • Biscuits served at a dance party
  • A new, angrez bride looking at a bar of chocolate as if she hasn’t seen one in her whole life
  • Scanners to detect germs – seriously!
  • A bully is petrified and hypnotised when the child hero brandishes an ice lolly. He gets the girl too. Read that again for a second.

There you have it. I know that I haven’t covered everything (no human can, even if given a lifetime). But I hope I have highlighted a consumer’s perception about many of our ad campaigns.

My message: We want logic. We don’t want our children to think we are their evil overlords. We cannot be convinced that soap can replace radiotherapy as a cure for cancer and we want less acts of blatant redundancy. Otherwise, we are just one button away from where you can’t reach us.