It’s that time of the year again – coming to a close and a nudge from Aurora to do a wrap up piece – looking back, if not forward. While a crystal ball may not suffice in predicting the turn that advertising trends will take in the future, the present and past should not be viewed simply through rose-tinted glasses.
However, there are efforts and achievements that need to be recognised, if not applauded. For one, there is a conscious effort at image building by many brands that had earlier remained content with eliciting poor consumer perceptions. Even products like Veet hair remover and other brands, usually positioned at the bottom rungs of the image ladder, have managed to acquire certain sophistication through investing in better ideas, models and production quality.
A development to be cheered is the acceptance of humour as a popular genre. At one time, clients tended to treat their products as sacred cows and any dig at the expense of their brands was considered sacrilegious. While Indian advertising may have been a major influencing factor in the ultimately favourable attitude towards humour, Pakistanis have shown immense imagination in taking an indigenous approach to humour in advertising.
Telecom advertising, which accounts for 40% or so of ad spend and is primarily responsible for setting trends, is mercifully leading the way towards entertaining commercials, whether through gentle humour or unabashed comedy – as in Ufone.
Ufone must also be credited with maintaining a high level of humour throughout its campaigns over the past several years. Recent weeks have reaffirmed the fact that the creative juices are in full flow in the team responsible for Ufone’s campaigns. Using Ali Gul Pir (the online sensation who became an instant hit with Waderay ka beta) with Wasim Akram in a ‘musical’ during the T 20 series was a brilliant initiative. Again, while all brands advertise their internet services, the simple storyline of the situation shown by Ufone, coupled with its witty approach, clearly communicated the message of fast connectivity. This kind of consistency is also rare in an environment where clients are the first to show fatigue with their advertising style, regardless of success. Ufone’s campaigns, it seems, have become independent of the client (PTCL) and this is all the more remarkable for a government entity normally bent on throttling creativity.
Some other brands have also successfully popularised humour in advertising. Pepsi’s recent campaign showing Pakistan’s top cricketers trying their hand (unsuccessfully) at games other than cricket is a trailblazer in taking an irreverent approach towards celebrities. While most brands in Pakistan still follow the traditional, testimonial route of celebrity endorsement, Pepsi effectively used satire to link personal success of the cricketers – Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi and Umer Gul – with their choice of drink. Poking fun, even if gentle, at the giants of Pakistani cricket has resulted in a campaign that is unlikely to be forgotten soon, regardless of the erratic performance of the cricketing stars chosen.
A joke doing the rounds following the recent ban on YouTube was that creative people in agencies had turned into lost souls, unable to get ‘inspiration’ (a polite word for copying) from foreign commercials. However, in recent years, Pakistani advertising has shown that it’s come of age and one has seen many brilliant campaigns that are original and appealing.
Recent years have also seen encouraging signs of advertising embracing the indigenous. In an environment where companies once preferred to give their brands a semblance of a ‘foreign’ image, we are seeing an increase in campaigns that take pride in the projection of local culture and idiom. Television campaigns for Bonus Tristar, a detergent popular in Punjab, were among the first to de-glamourise advertising and get down to capturing the essence of rural Punjab’s culture and lifestyle in a humorous style. Campaigns for Tarang have done so on a much grander scale, creating entertaining musicals using the Punjabi film genre. Its more memorable campaign, however, is the extremely well-executed tribute to singer Noor Jehan and her hit song Jawan Hai Mohabbat… haseen hai zamana...
Radio and print advertising has, regrettably, not seen groundbreaking advertising specifically suited to the respective medium. Most agencies take the easy route by adapting television commercials to other media. Radio, in particular, with a fast evolving listenership, thanks to the growth of FM stations, offers immense potential for creativity that remains unexplored. Clients and agencies remain audio-visual centric and consider other media as secondary. This is incidentally not the case with outdoor advertising which has, in recent years, seen innovative use of the medium.
Public service advertising is another area that has remained mainly neglected. I recall a poster, created by Javed Jabbar and prominently displayed at MNJ in the 70s that posed a question to all of us: “In a country where over 75% (if I remember correctly) of the people don’t have access to clean drinking water, should an advertising agency spend 100% of its time selling toothpaste?”
2012 saw little in terms of initiatives in the area. The most talked about campaign was Geo TV’s Zara sochieye, supported by Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID), promoting education.
An encouraging development in the advertising profession has been the consistency of the Pakistan Advertisers Society’s (PAS) Awards. In a country where most systems of recognition are sporadic, PAS held its second Awards show on an even grander scale. However, it is yet to address criticism of its policy of accepting adaptations of advertising done in other countries. And it is still not clear if its efforts are inspiring originality.
It’s really in the creativity and energy of the young that the future of advertising lies. They are irreverent and challenging the unwritten rules of communication hitherto accepted. The media, social in particular, has given them tremendous opportunities to express themselves and hone their talents.
Getting into advertising is just a hop and a click away.
Zohra Yusuf is Executive Creative Director, Spectrum Y&R.