Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Advertising’s hipster hijabi

Published in Nov-Dec 2016
In profile: Daniah Ishtiaq, Manager Planning, MullenLowe Rauf.

Within 10 minutes after my arrival at the R-Centre, I see Daniah Ishtiaq descending the stairs from the second floor.

I instantly recognise her by her headscarf. Tall, slim, clad in blue jeans and a beige linen blazer – the contradiction in her attire is the first thing I notice.

In the glitzy advertising world, where women are usually perceived to be uber glamorous and chic from top to toe, Ishtiaq, with her casual, girl-next-door look and headscarf was a rare sight; yet... she exuded femininity and confidence.

Following the initial salutations, we sit over a cup of coffee in the meeting room and begin our conversation.

“People ask me how I am surviving in this industry with this scarf. I think it’s fun because a lot of times I manage to shock clients. They tell me it is so refreshing to see someone present a case study on a beer brand while wearing a hijab. I do not let my religious convictions interfere with my work because I believe one can learn from anyone, even if they sell alcohol.”

Ishtiaq is currently Manager Planning at MullenLowe Rauf. Other strong names on her resume include IAL Saatchi & Saatchi, where she worked as Senior Strategist; Ogilvy, where she was the Senior Planner and Coca-Cola Pakistan, where she started her career as a Trade Marketing Trainee and later became a Sales Analyst.

She had her first taste of advertising at Ogilvy, where she interned in 2008, while completing her BBA from the Institute of Business Administration (IBA).

“I was never a finance person, so I chose marketing, but after my internship at Ogilvy, I made up my mind to go into advertising. I loved the experience!”

Yet, contrary to her resolve, after obtaining her Masters in Marketing (also from IBA), she joined Coca-Cola. Two years were to follow before she said yes to Shazia Khan, her mentor, and joined Ogilvy as Senior Planner for Tang GCC and Pakistan.

“Ogilvy will always be my first love; all that I know about advertising, I learned there.”

Her first love, however, could not retain her interest for long. The typical Millennial, Ishtiaq joined IAL Saatchi & Saatchi a year and eight months later... another 10 months down the line, she accepted an offer from MullenLowe Rauf.

Changing four employers over a span of three years! That’s serial job-hopping!

“I think it has more to do with new challenges,” is how she rephrases it.

“This is a creative industry where we deal with consumer insights and when you are working with a creative element, you add value to it wherever you are. Just because you built a brand or a model does not mean you stick to it for the rest of your life.”

Responding to my question about why she moved to Saatchi in 2013 she says that “Saatchi & Saatchi are giants. Their portfolio had a good mix of local and international accounts; on one side they had P&G and on the other, brands like Dawlance, Tapal and National.”

“Besides I had worked enough on GCC accounts at Ogilvy. No offence, but GCC accounts are a different ball game altogether. There is only one type of advertising; functional and emotional.”

"Just because you built a brand or a model does not mean you stick to it for the rest of your life.”"

After a year at MullenLowe Rauf, she believes her best work is yet to come. She has not yet seen any of her work on TV translated in exactly the way she conceived it and she blames the ‘territory’ for it, adding that people in this part of the world are not ready to take risks.

“We do not stand by our ideas.”

It is also a case of too many cooks.

“It is not just you who is making the decision; it is you, the client and the consumer and all of them do not have to necessarily agree. Foolish people like me want to try out new ideas but we but always get slapped down with ‘we’re not ready for this yet.’”

This is why she thinks agencies lose their passion. In her opinion, they are more focused on complying with the clients’ demand and playing it safe. Clients too do not want to take risks as they are investing big budgets and have a brand image to live up to.

“Pakistanis love Indian adverts; they are good because Indians are comfortable showing their reality. People in Pakistan have difficulty coming to terms with reality. They want a perfect wife, perfect mother and perfect sister-in-law.”

She expresses great admiration for Pakistani dramas for raising social and cultural realities and wondered why it is the contrary in advertising and why consumers always seem to prefer a glossy picture when it comes to ads; a dichotomy she would like to probe further.

Since she had brought India into the conversation, I ask about the ‘trending’ topic of banning celebrities on both sides and would it harm advertising?

“It will cut both ways,” she remarks.

“In Pakistan, we learn a lot from Indian advertising; in terms of execution, production, creating jingles and casting. After this ban, many Indian production houses are not responding to us. However, if you look at the bright side, I think some of the Pakistani advertisers which are making their ads in India will start doing them here, which will be great!”

Hailing from a supportive family; a mother who is a doctor and father who is a flight instructor, she admits her personality is full of contrasts. When not working, she prefers watching The Walking Dead on Netflix, socialising and eating out, especially on Fridays when it is her cheat day; for the rest of the week, she remains a calorie-Nazi! She is also a big Game of Thrones’ fan.

“I am known as the dark person here, a hipster hijabi who is into dark stuff, and who would have been assigned to Slytherin had I been at Hogwarts is how my friends describe me.”

“Pakistanis love Indian adverts; they are good because Indians are comfortable showing their reality. People in Pakistan have difficulty coming to terms with reality. They want a perfect wife, perfect mother and perfect sister-in-law.”

As for her current work, she is excited about the recent developments at MullenLowe Rauf.

“We are all about the ‘hyperbundle approach.’ Now we have all the arms; PR, digital, strategy, media under one unit represented by the logo – octopus.” This approach, she says, will enable the agency to distil an idea from every specialist wing and come up with the best solution for clients.

Looking ahead, she thinks there is a great deal of drive and growth potential in the industry, but to realise it, clients will have to become more experimental.

“Without it we cannot go anywhere and the passion will soon die.”

As for her own future, she thinks trends change so fast that it is almost impossible to plan long-term. Ultimately though, consulting is what she would like to venture into and that too ‘á la Kiran Murad’, previously ECD at Lowe and who now is an independent creative consultant.

And here, on this ambitious note, I very reluctantly concluded my interview. Otherwise, considering the way we hit it off, I think we could have gone on talking for another hour.

To finish off, I would say I will always remember my rendezvous with Ishtiaq; not only because it will be my debut work published in Aurora, but also because I had the opportunity to meet someone who impressed me with her animated spirit, the smartness of her repartee, her candid responses and passion for her profession.

Determined to make her own mark and bring forward the needed ‘change’ in the cutthroat advertising world, I am sure she will inspire many.