Every idea is a product that needs to be properly marketed. Pakistan, our great country, is no exception. Muslims in the Indian Subcontinent wanted independence from Britain, but the idea of it coming in the form of a separate state was presented by leaders of the Muslim League, and ‘marketed’ to the masses by Mr Jinnah using irrefutable religious and economic logic and the sheer charisma of his personality.
Almost all successful companies in the world have, at one time or another, appealed to their home markets, such as when Chrysler Corporation brought out the red-white-and-blue themed ads in the 80s to appeal to the American public to opt for a domestic option in the face of foreign competition.
In Pakistan, patriotism has held a strong place in our media and marketing, maybe even more so when compared to other countries. One recent example is the HBL ad featuring mountaineer Samina Baig. It is subtle and tasteful; instead of shoving the greatness of Pakistan down our throats, it makes us see it.
When talking about using national loyalty to lure us into buying certain products, who can forget the old ad for Express Power where a blurred package of Ariel washing powder is given the heave-ho by a housewife who insists that this “bahar ka powder” is inferior to Express in terms of performance? Ironically, Express is made and sold by a multinational.
Patriotism is a big player in India as well. Whole movies (which are multimillion dollar investments) are marketed as patriotic vehicles capitalising on the ideals of ‘shining India’ and glorifying its past. Border is a notorious example; Airlift is another.
However, with Bollywood movies now becoming increasingly international, wholesale jingoism is a tough sell. Therefore, the focus has shifted to celebrating the individuals of the country and not the country at the expense of ‘enemies’. Salman Khan’s blockbuster, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, is a shining example; it manages to celebrate both India and Pakistan and in turn, wins worldwide acclaim and profits.
A plethora of corporate advertisements descend around August, the season of national independence. Most companies prepare lengthy, emotive advertisements with sweeping vistas, generic footage, a swelling musical score, and deep-voiced voiceovers preaching about how the brand is intrinsically linked to Pakistan, to capitalise on the feel-good atmosphere around August 14. Every now and then, though, some masterpieces emerge; one of the earliest (and best known) is Rhythm of Unity sponsored by Morven Gold. Relive the good old days here:
Simple and effective, it showcases a stirring musical score by Farrukh Abid with the use of folk instruments. There is no Pakistani flag in sight; instead, the ad is beautifully shot in Shahi Qilla and the performers are easily identified as musicians from different locales and ethnicities of Pakistan.
While watching this, one wonders how the brilliance, ecstasy and skill of this advertisement can be topped. Well, here’s how: MCB’s ad for a national celebration, which has a distinction of becoming a popular anthem in its own right.
While more overt and heavy handed than Rhythm of Unity, the song is sung to perfection by the inimitable Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The song is so integral a part of our culture that no one remembers who sponsored it!
However, it is not to say that it works every time, such as when Lu suddenly decided that Gala, a run of the mill cookie, was emblematic of Pakistan and presented us with this:
The “mere des ka biscuit Gala” did not strike a chord for two reasons: first, a biscuit is not a desi item; second, it is styled like an item song from a Bollywood musical. No subtlety and therefore no credibility.
The advent of pop music in Pakistan was accompanied by hope and patriotism in our youth. Who can forget Dil Dil Pakistan? No, I won’t give a link: you can hear it in your heads. The Vital Signs’ anthem kicked off their career and established a de facto rule where every pop album had to have a patriotic song or an ode to the armed forces. This, as a cynical marketing exercise, ensured that the appeal of these groups travelled from teenagers and young adults to official quarters as well as older generations, not to mention lucrative advertising contracts with soft drinks makers eager to jump onto the patriotism bandwagon.
Rhythm of Unity proves beyond a shadow of doubt, that when Pakistani professionals are engaged and given creative freedom, they can come up with world class work. The message is clear: to sell to Pakistanis, the ads should be made by our local advertising talent and also star our local talent. Foreign-made campaigns can strike a chord for a limited time due to how well the ad is shot but they will never be gems to which we can wholeheartedly relate.
Also, while our country does have its faults, it is still home. In our national songs, everything is painted rosy and utopian, and though we know this not to be the case, we hope one day to achieve that ideal. Therefore, the best kind of advertising is the one which gives us hope, motivation and energy to do more rather than sit on our laurels.