Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Bringing in the change

Published in Nov-Dec 2016
To be truly innovative, agencies must change their mindset and be open to new ideas, methods and paradigms.

Some time ago, a friend asked a question on the Facebook group I am an admin of. She shared a campaign from KFC India called Watt A Box. The idea was that the package in which the food was served could also charge your mobile. Her question (an oft repeated one) was: “When will we come up with ideas like this?”

In response to any cross-border ad or world class campaign, we are told that the problem is that Pakistani brands have decided that the song and dance formula is the way to go, or that agencies are doing their best but are constantly being straitjacketed by clients. But really, what are the contributing factors to the lack of innovation and creativity we are experiencing? People are trying all the time to diagnose what is holding back our local marketing and advertising industry. Is it one factor or a combination of many?

Popular culprits include our conservative society for tying the hands of marketers. The logic is that because we operate in a traditional society, creative licence is lacking. However, this line of thought seems to be flawed if we consider that South East Asian countries, especially Muslim ones, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, exhibit far greater creativity than we do in Pakistan.

However, a case can be made for societal norms playing a part in discouraging new ideas. Lifebuoy India won praise and prizes for its 'message on a roti' campaign. The idea was to stamp in edible ink on the roti sold at the Kumbh Mela a reminder to wash hands before eating it.

Few people know that this idea was developed and tested in Pakistan, but failed due to people being averse to the idea of food served at a religious festival having a stamp on it. So an idea rejected in Pakistan was accepted in India. Another example of an Indian campaign that would never see the light of day in our market is the CEAT tyre one. This campaign (a personal favourite) is about how one needs good reliable tyres because the streets are full of idiots. I can imagine the uproar caused if a local agency presented this sort of an idea to a Pakistani brand. It is obvious that culturally-sensitive solutions are needed in order for brands to progress in Pakistan, but marketers can exert pressure to alter societal norms, if they choose the right method.

Another factor in the equation is lazy thinking. It is ironic that while words like innovation and creativity are bandied about, our marketing industry pays little more than lip service to them. With brands being generally risk averse, agencies tend to avoid rocking the boat and it is common knowledge that some agencies gravitate towards presenting an idea they believe the client will accept and very few will be brave and challenge the brand manager, out of fear of losing the account. Adding to this lazy thinking is media bias. While working on a creative campaign, the agency already has pre-decided which media to use. This goes against the call for media agnostic solutions made by the Centre for Integrated Marketing in their 2003 report on Open Channel Planning.

It is ironic that while words like innovation and creativity are bandied about, our marketing industry pays little more than lip service to them.

Agencies frequently blame clients for putting a spanner in the works. How far is this true? Are client attitudes or the myopia of the brand manager the most important reasons why the Pakistani marketing industry seems to lack innovation? For many people on the agency side, the answer is yes. Clients do not give agencies the freedom they desire. It is interesting to note that former agency people, when they get the chance to work on the brand side, behave in exactly the same way towards agency folk. So who is really at fault? I believe that agencies bear most of the blame but clients too need to provide them with a proper brief and trust them as partners and not regard them as vendors.

A number of seasoned marketing practitioners believe that the quality of the graduates coming out of the business schools is not as good as it should be and according to them, this is a major contributing factor to the lack of innovation. They believe that young people are badly prepared for the corporate world and that there is a gap between them and professionals. In my opinion, the real issue is more widespread, even penetrating the ranks of experienced marketers.

It is interesting to note that former agency people, when they get the chance to work on the brand side, behave in exactly the same way towards agency folk. So who is really at fault?

Marketers, whether they are fresh or experienced, are very adept at learning and adding new skills but they need to be able to unlearn and relearn. This requires an open mind and a willingness to reshape paradigms. Achieving this is easier said than done as the effects of conditioning (a process which begins during childhood) are very strong. As Sir Ken Robinson and others have proved, the education system, globally and especially in Pakistan, is designed to destroy the vibrant and powerful imagination and curiosity of a child.

When children are educated, they are taught to conform. At school they are taught to compete in rote learning or reproduce what has been taught. The indoctrination is heightened at college and university level and when these youngsters enter the workforce, they are compelled to surrender to seniority and corporate culture. The little ingenuity and spark they have left is killed by their bosses and peers who believe their way is the best and only way. It is unfair to expect the products of such a system to be innovative and creative, especially if they are not given the leeway to experiment.

Marketing is not about doing the same thing over and again; it is about experimentation and learning – and in Pakistan the element of experimentation is missing. When people decry the song and dance routine, they fail to see the bigger issue. Brands do not stray from what they know works. They would rather achieve acceptable growth instead of taking a risk and aiming for sensational growth.

Ironically, success is perhaps the biggest obstacle to local marketers becoming brave and innovative. If the hackneyed old ways work and the business grows, there is little motivation for a marketer to change things around. Local marketers believe in the American adage “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” They, however, are ignoring the fact that in marketing, a small change or tweak can result in amazing returns and open up new untapped avenues. Fear of failure permeates our society at all levels and the marketing industry is no exception.

If marketers want to embrace innovation and increase creativity they need to change their mindset and be open to new ideas, new methods and paradigms. This requires the willingness to unlearn and relearn. Experimentation and risk will have to be embraced. They will need to adopt a new mantra and fresh perspective.

After all, “change cannot be given to you, sometimes you must bring the change,” to quote Ahmed, a bus conductor.

Tyone Tellis is a marketing professional working in Pakistan.