Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2015

Insights and stereotypes

[Opinion] The best and worst local ads of 2015.

As another year races to a close, it falls upon me to guide you lot down the typically perplexing, sporadically fascinating and frequently infuriating road of Pakistani advertising.

Disclaimer: I am here merely to share my views, which you are free to disagree with wholeheartedly.

So which campaigns stayed with me this year for better or worse? Let’s start with the better.

1.) Shan
(Ramazan ad)

Cynicism aside, this is likely to become the campaign of the year for several reasons. First, Shan broke with tradition by including people in their ads, whereas in the past they were uniformly devoid of such. So this change would have garnered attention regardless of the campaign’s quality. But the campaign itself was a success on its own merits. In a sea of OTT, slick Eid campaigns that either evoke more than a hint of Bollywood in concept and execution, or act as the best sleeping aid ever due to sheer monotony, Shan felt inspired and true. There are touches of genius here in fact.

Relevance: Shan has a huge market of expat Pakistanis and the story of a young man needing all the help he can get for a taste of home rings solidly true. Simplicity: the story is not convoluted or artificial. It is the sort of situation thousands of Pakistanis living abroad can relate to – along with the families that miss them at home. Emotion: unbridled feeling can either resonate or embarrass. Here, it decidedly achieved the former and that is down to an honest script and some powerful acting. This is in fact the kind of feat Indian advertising pulls off regularly, so well done Shan for proving that genuine feeling is not something beyond our grasp. It can be done.

2.) HBL
(Jahan khwab, wahan HBL)

Sometimes you don’t need to go outside the box or the room or whatever. Sometimes, classic works best. HBL’s campaign is a stellar case of this. That the ad is not groundbreaking is clear; we have seen such breathtaking vistas many times in ads local and foreign. Nor is the concept innovative; using celebrities in ads is possibly Commandment number one of the Ad Bible. What makes it different is the celebrity in question. Now, I’m not going to gush, because we all know how brilliant and admirable Samina Baig is. She is that rarity, a true role model for Pakistanis – and crucially for girls and women – sorely needed. She defies odds and blazes a trail for the rest of us to follow, she has tremendous courage and resilience (here I go gushing away!) and therefore, HBL’s only challenge lay in making the best possible use of her. I think they succeeded. We have covered moving and epic, and I have saved my best for last.

3.) Kenwood
(Khush raho)

And here’s why. Insight: this is the holy grail of marketing and a glance at Pakistani ads gives truth to this statement because it usually remains so elusive. We spend time, money and effort on research, over and over, usually becoming more confused and moving further away from the truth in the process. And yet, here is an insight that seems obvious and every day in its simplicity: a fact that would prompt many esteemed marketers to dismiss it immediately (it isn’t unique enough!). Yet insights are not unique, but universal. And this one is so straightforward it rather shocks you once you grasp its genius: a marriage is a partnership where you look out for each other and have each other’s backs for better and worse. This is inevitable, because we are human, not machines and therefore imperfect. And that’s it! Universal truth, connecting audience and brand, and ensuring ad and brand memorability at the end. Execution: if this had not lived up to the concept, Kenwood may not have made it to my coveted list. Luckily the execution is flawless, with actors who look like people and not models, ordinary situations (I personally identify most with the wife discovering wrappers stuffed down a sofa!) and a spot-on VO at the end.

And now for the thankless bit (aka the ads that just did not cut it).

1.) QMobile
(Pick any and I mean any)

If I could get away with summing this brand up in a word I would use ‘sameness’. They literally do one thing over and over, changing only the star in question. We have seen everyone and their aunt in QMobile, from Priyanka to Shahid to Kareena and beyond. It is dull, it is forgettable, and it is low on credibility (of course Bollywood uses QMobile! Apple? Isn’t that a boring fruit?). If QMobile wants us to envy its deep pockets, job done. If it wants to inform us of who Bollywood’s current ‘IT’ people are, job done. But if it wishes to convey a clear message or stand out or do anything innovative, then I’m afraid it is a mission left unaccomplished. I mentioned good use of a celebrity before; this is the opposite.

2.) Warid
(Double faida)

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In the same vein, we have Warid, another brand that visibly spends a great deal on its marketing, employs celebrities regularly, and instils every TVC with that generic glossy feel. For all that Warid’s ads simply do not stand out, whether within the telco industry or generally. The Shahid Afridi/Aamir Khan ad is a perfect example of good ingredients making a mediocre meal. A lot could have been done with these two dynamic, beloved sportsmen. Yet, the commercial takes the safest possible route (I would venture to say a proven route, because this ad is eerily reminiscent of the Ronaldo-Pelé Emirates commercial). The message is clunky as is usually the case when a concept writer engages in unnatural contortions to tie the idea with the offer: double offer + double stars = giant yawn. Finally, the execution is wholly generic (and compared to Emirates, sub par) and the initial novelty of seeing these two together wears off quickly.

3.) Allied Bank
(Aapkay dil mein hamara account)

You know, I have quite enjoyed some of Allied’s ads in the past. I have a hazy recollection of blue butterflies around the time they relaunched the brand and I remember liking the fact that they did something lighter and slightly fanciful in a sober sector. Since then, they have generally stuck to a personal, friendly tone that goes well with their positioning. Alas, they have taken it too far this year. This is down to personal preference (see disclaimer). First, I am not generally a fan of exploiting using kids in bank ads – it’s a bit too mercenary and cold in my view: let’s manipulate parents by using children to tug at their heartstrings! Ditto for insurance ads; surely there is a more original way of referencing the future? This new one is worse. The setup with the little girl at a blackboard, the grating VO, the saccharine-sweet acting and the beat-it-over-the-head messaging all conspire to make me shriek in horror and change the channel post-haste at the first note. The ultimate tragedy? There is no avoiding it. Nothing works because these guys have thrown some serious cash at this campaign and the disconcerting truth is that it is literally everywhere, all the time.

And as a bonus, I give you EFU Life, still peddling antiquated gender roles in 2015! Yes my dears, apparently only male offspring are worthy of an education! Women are born so they can get married and slave away and serve men and provide the background lyrics for the star, who MUST be male.

End rant.

Sara Qureshi is a marketing professional working in Pakistan.
saraqureshi75@gmail.com