Published in Nov-Dec 2012
A shady con man in the US hits upon a not-so-novel scheme. He reaches out to a group of bigoted financiers and allegedly raises five million dollars to ‘tell the truth about Islam’. He then spends almost five thousand of those dollars to make a ‘film’ that makes Plan 9 From Outer Space look like a James Cameron production. He then puts up a trailer online.
Cut to an earnest young man (I assume) trolling the internet, masochistically searching for content that would hurt his beliefs, so that he can then go out and complain about his beliefs being hurt. And as it always happens when square peg meets round hole, there is friction.
In a matter of days, a great many people have lost their lives, even more have lost their livelihood and it seems everyone has lost their minds. And to the horror of the few users with access to broadband in Pakistan, YouTube is blocked once again.
On the face of it, this is a great argument for using the power of the world wide web for good instead of evil. Every digital expert fantasises about creating the ‘perfect storm’ viral that will drive consumers to stores like zombies to a daig of brain masala.
And then the US had to go spoil it all with their attempt at damage control… by running an ad… on TV.
Before we go any further, let’s look at two telling facts, ironically, taken from the internet.
According to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, there are only two million broadband users in the country as of February 2012 (Source: The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2012). This means that only one percent of the country can stream videos and upload content. And watch the latest episode in the ever eventful and always wonderful life of Awais Lovely. And then there’s the other screen. Depending on who you believe, there are between 90 and 118 million mobile phone subscribers in Pakistan. But what is truly telling is what they are ‘doing’ with those cellphones. Pakistanis collectively sent over 151 billion text messages during the year 2009. Nokia has cited Pakistan as producing the third highest SMS traffic in the world in 2010 (Source: The Express Tribune, November 15th, 2011). I have a nagging feeling most of those texts were either about Zubeida apa or Pepsi’s latest price point.
And now let me add two plus two and come up with the square root of pi raised to the power n… Pakistan is not ready for any serious investment in the digital platform.
There. I said it. And yes, I heard the collective gasp emanating from basements and attics across Pakistan. But if you could just step away from the keyboard and put down that latte, you would see the rationale behind my rant.
At this point I can sense that the ‘digitelite’ (I made that word up. I hear the word mash-ups is considered uber cool by the techies) will leap up and say that ‘banners’ and ‘page views’ are things of the past... the future lies in ‘experiential’ interactions. I guess it is because I’m a dinosaur that the future seems a lot like the past.
In 2011, the share of TV in the total ad spend was 58%, or Rs 18.6 billion. Print media was worth Rs 8.5 billion, with a 27% share in the total ad spend. The share of radio in the total ad spend in 2011 was Rs 1.3 billion, or four percent. There was a surge in the outdoor and brand activation expenditure, which saw a 50% increase to three billion rupees, or nine percent of the total ad spend (Source: The Aurora Fact File, 2011).
Now these numbers can only mean one of two things. Either the entire advertising industry, from marketing gurus to media buying moguls, is blinkered and have drawn their life lessons from sheep (or more appropriately lemmings).
Or the industry is incredibly ‘sensible’ and has decided to spend the money where it matters… in spaces where their actual consumer is.
The fact remains that we are a young nation that is increasingly tech savvy and is spending more and more impulsively than the generations before us. We have access to credit cards, car loans and personal loans. We have no qualms about (and are in fact quietly dedicated to) making our own personal contributions to the rising consumer debt in Pakistan. But that does not necessarily mean that we are driven to buy by a banner on Hotmail or push a ‘like’ on Facebook.
At this point I can sense that the ‘digitelite’ (I made that word up. I hear the word mash-ups is considered uber cool by the techies) will leap up and say that ‘banners’ and ‘page views’ are things of the past… the future lies in ‘experiential’ interactions. I guess it is because I’m a dinosaur that the future seems a lot like the past. For me, Woodstock was an experience (I wasn’t there) or perhaps the Vital Signs show way back when at the KMC tennis courts was an experience (I was there). My wife and mother-in-law watched all of Humsafar on a single night on DVD and spent the best part of the week discussing it. In contrast, I decided to ‘shoot the bear’. I was amused but for the life of me I can’t remember what the brand was.
I’m sure there have been others before me who felt much as I do. The Gutenberg Bible would have seemed like a heresy to them. Setting type on a computer would have offended the purists who believed that true art lay in the eye and the hand, not the mouse and the cursor. I myself railed against the digital medium and swore by film until Arri came out with the Alexa.
Perhaps the problem isn’t the ‘medium’ but the ‘content’. Perhaps it isn’t the depth of the ‘penetration’ but the ‘joy’ derived from it.
Maybe it is just that its time hasn’t yet come. Whatever it is, as things stand today, I can’t in good conscience ask my client to air a single spot less in exchange for a blog post.
But then of course, I’m a dinosaur. What would I know?
Ali Hayat Rizvi is Chief Creative Officer, Walter.