Published in Sep-Oct 2016
I have been an advertising practitioner for over 17 years. I have worked in three different countries, serving 10 different markets.
I have worked with a leading local agency, a global network agency and a start-up.
I like to extrapolate trends based on similar occurrences I have observed in different markets. Let me share my observation of Pakistan’s ad industry, and where I believe it is headed.
The eight secret ingredients of advertising in Pakistan The first thing that struck me when I returned to Pakistan was how similar the advertising was – across brands and categories. It seemed almost as if it was all cut from the same cloth and by the same tailor. I dug a bit deeper and found eight ingredients that were used with remarkable consistency over the past 10 years, perhaps even longer. As with any dish, the ingredients are usable in isolation, or in a combination. Here are my findings:
1) The celebrity
Celebrities are the comfort blankets of the Pakistani ad industry. You have a new brand to launch? Must use a celebrity. Need credentialing? A celebrity will do it so much better. Has the celebrity already been overused in every possible category? Does not matter, as long as people still like the celebrity!
2) The jingle
When we refer to ‘the jingle’, we are not talking about a simple background score, ident or signature tune. We are talking about a full blown emotional advertising song. How will your advertisement achieve recall without a jingle ringing endlessly in the consumer’s head?
3) The emotional melodrama
We are not talking about lightweight emotional content. We are talking about tearjerkers. Actors bursting into tears of joy, a daughter-in-law saved from scorn and humiliation. A period of uncertainty, with the world crumbling beneath the feet of the protagonist, only to be saved in a twist of fate by the brand.
4) The teacher learner
It doesn’t take too much imagination to figure this one out. A hapless, uninformed learner, who would endure struggle were it not for the teacher who arrives just in time. The teacher solves the learner’s problem through the brand (the real teacher) and saves the day.
5) The challenge format
Washing powder X can perform better than its substitute, as showcased in seemingly public brand trials. A celebrity entering a home showing how his brand of toilet cleaner is so much better than acid.
6) The slice of life
Vignettes of an idealised consumer life. Images of a housewife happily serving food to a smiling family, or a young man enjoying a perfect time with his friends. Smiles all around, courtesy of the brand.
7) The slapstick comedian
This is a relatively new one. A comedian adding a dose of humour to an otherwise boring marketing message.
8) The real hero
I like this one. A genuine hero, whose approach and attitude embodies the spirit of the brand being represented in the advertisement.
There are exceptions. Some advertisements are just televised announcements. I do acknowledge there are some genuine examples of brands trying to push the bar, although they are far and few between.
Where this is headed: Brands are growing in Pakistan, and so is the advertising industry as a result. Ingredient-based advertising has certainly contributed, and it is recognised in our local awards. While the major agencies and clients may believe ingredient based advertising is good enough,
I believe simple, idea-driven advertising will lead to better results and that the consistent application of the eight ingredients for all brands and categories will lead to the advertising industry’s ruin.
Imagine if the restaurant industry of Pakistan lost its ability to create new dishes and started to limit itself to eight ingredients, with a twist here and there. What would happen to it? Restaurant brands would quickly lose their charm and turn into commodities.
I believe ingredient based advertising will lead to the rapid commoditisation of the advertising industry – and although the commoditisation of advertising agencies is a global phenomenon, I believe it will happen faster in Pakistan. It is easier to substitute a Pakistan-based agency today than it has ever been in the past. Let me list down some of the substitutes for traditional agencies available today:
— Other agencies: With an unacceptable level of sameness in their creative output, it becomes an easy decision to substitute one agency for another, barring an excellent relationship manager.
— Freelance creative specialists: Stunningly, agencies promote freelance specialists in an effort to deliver ‘better’ ingredient-based advertising. We have jingle specialists for the most memorable jingles. We have slapstick comedians who take over the creative duties of creative agencies for major brands. If the freelance specialists can do it better, why stick to the agency?
— TVC directors: This is another unfortunate trend I have observed. We have directors who have become adept in formulaic advertising, and who can gloss over any conceptual deficiencies with excellent production values. Why not cut out the agency when they fail to add value?
— The clients dictate the creative route: This happens when the agency loses the high ground to brand managers, who in all fairness have become equally adept at putting together ingredient based approaches.
— Globalisation: The scariest monster of them all. Globalisation has arrived in Pakistan in a big way. Indian creative is used extensively, as are global adaptations. While
I agree that much of this is in line with regional brand strategies, I have served global brands in a different market where my agency was successful in pushing back unnecessary regional reapplications on the basis of strong local insights, and a strong local creative product.
A Brutally Simple Solution
It is unfortunate to see the advertising industry commoditising itself. Clients have less to lose as they have an increasing number of substitutes available to them. It’s a force in motion that will require a major force to reverse. The only viable solution from my perspective is to drive communications through Brutally Simple Ideas. It is a well researched fact that Brutally Simple Ideas have transformed the world, something I can detail in a future article.
Let me share some examples of Brutally Simple Ideas that have transformed brands, and the reputation of advertising agencies:
The Peak Freens Pied Piper: Highly differentiated for the time. Worked wonders for the brand, and the agency as well.
Pepsi advertising during the early 90s: The brand managed to capture national sentiments in a brave and highly differentiated manner. Again, worked wonders for the brand and the agency.
Apple 1984: The campaign that launched Apple, the most valuable brand in the world today.
The need for Brutally Simple Ideas is a painful necessity for Pakistan’s advertising industry. It is easier to complicate advertising through the mindless application of ingredients than to simplify. Simple ideas enter the brain more quickly and stay there longer.
The industry should rise to the challenge, as we have observed from our counterparts across the border. It’s a brave new future for advertising agencies in Pakistan.
Afzal Hussain is COO, Pirana and Director Strategy – M&C Saatchi World Services Pakistan.