Most Pakistani advertising agencies are unregulated – filled with people we colloquially call baaton ke baadshah, and through years of experience these story spinners have mastered the art of selling ice to an Eskimo. Armed with PowerPoint decks and oozing with charisma, any of these formidable mad men can deliver a steady stream of amazing ideas. Few of us, however, have the necessary machinery to deliver the right execution for the same.
The result? Bizarre TVCs, botched activations, superficial digital content. The biggest case in point in the local market seems to be massive rebranding campaigns, which sound good on paper (“We’ll revamp the image! Make you a younger and sexier brand. The masses will cheer for you in the streets! The youth will Snapchat your new logo! The Page 3 crowd will talk about you over canapés!”), but end up being a whitewashing exercise without any significant consumer engagement. Four years and two marketing directors later, the cycle repeats itself.
Two factors play a major role in the discrepancy between an idea and its execution. The first is money. It is simultaneously the most important aspect in any creative campaign’s implementation and its most versatile scapegoat; “Yes, we wanted to go further, but the client didn’t cough up enough dough.”
Ideas are cheap, fleeting, and in Pakistan, extremely fickle. So any agency can afford to fire 10 ideas in your brand’s direction (seven of which they already tried earlier with another client). But when it comes to execution, you need to make the right arrangements, create the right things, and produce the right expressions. All of these cost real money, and most of us are either restricted with budgetary constraints or too busy maximising the profit on each project to put resources where they are due.
"Great ideas sound good in the boardroom, but are often tougher to defend when you get down to the nitty-gritty in execution phase."
The other factor, which I feel is a subtler commentary on the state of marketing in Pakistan, is the inability to take risks in the face of opposition. Great ideas sound good in the boardroom, but are often tougher to defend when you get down to the nitty-gritty in execution phase. We don’t want to move away from the traditional shoots, the tried and tested directors, the safe visual templates, the charted technology, and the riskless tone of voice. We’re way too willing to compromise when it comes to properly testing and executing an idea to its full potential.
To be fair, this isn’t a problem limited to just our country. There are examples of executional bhands (blunder) in the global ad community as well. The GAP brand identity revamp project from 2010 mirrored the executional misstep of a good idea taking a wrong turn in the application stage. The world was awaiting a better logo, but the newer iteration just seemed to... to put it in simple terms, suck.
Lest you think this is an area where only agencies falter, let me direct you to Cartoon Network’s campaign in late 2007 that put up LED boards depicting the likeness of one of their cartoon shows across Boston, USA... except that in the post-911 world, the lit boards looked more like bombs, causing citywide panic. The head of the channel was sacked, the company paid $2 million in fines, and lost its goodwill in the eyes of the people.
Add to this the countless ‘lost-in-translation’ goofs that brands have regretted over the years. My favourite, for some odd reason, is American beer brand Coors’ tagline “Turn it loose” which was translated for the Spanish market to an expression that is commonly interpreted as “Suffers from diarrhoea”.
Blunders can be simply stupid, as Esurance’s embarrassing billboard in Chicago (see, this is why kerning matters!), or they can be deeply disturbing, as Malaysian Airlines’ awkwardly-worded “My Ultimate Bucket List” social media campaign, hot on the heels of the tragic accidents with two of their flights.
And while this may seem dated, in my opinion the greatest executional blunder award should go to the New Coke debacle. The idea seemed bulletproof; make a newer, better Coke because that’s what people want. But the campaign’s execution backfired, the consumer base was alienated, and the veritable brand became a permanent addition to the greatest marketing fails in history.
I know hindsight is 20/20, but it’s about time all of us in the marketing industry took a good, hard look at each idea’s executional viability before we are swayed by its seductive charm. Else, we’ll be sending the brand – and our own reputation – to the executioners.
Umair Kazi is Partner at Ishtehari. firstname.lastname@example.org