I believe that the best government is the one which advertises the least. Well, that is my twist on the words of Henry David Thoreau: “That government is best which governs least.” Pakistan needs to see actions taken by their government – not advertisements that serve mainly to aggrandise the leadership and are aimed at eventually helping them win elections.
I have never had the privilege of working on a government account nor do I wish to, although recently I have seen much tabdeeli in government advertisements. However, before delving into the recent advertisements, let’s travel back in time. Imagine an advertising agency receiving a brief from the government: “You have to use the party leadership pictures, then the relevant minister’s; make the photos big; here is the thesis that needs to go in. And make the photos bigger; give them 70% of the space; remember all the text has to go in as well; and the logos. Make the photos bigger.”
The end result is to see photos of the party leadership with a 1,000 words worth of copy, packed in a half page ad, and all that one can get out of the ad is: “there goes my hard-earned tax money.”
During the 2013 elections, PTI’s advertising stood out. They broke the norm with cleaner layouts, fewer words and one could appreciate the creativity. People may not credit Imran Khan for the change, but he seems to have set a benchmark for the rest of the parties to follow; in recent government campaigns, photos of the party leaders have become smaller and in some cases are not there at all, which is a welcome break. The messaging is crisper, the layouts cleaner and you can actually see some design thought applied.
The KP Government ads communicate their reforms, new projects and initiatives with the purpose of raising awareness. There were ads about a training programme for teachers, the Green Growth Initiative and the Police Assistance Lines. They have aired commercials on reforms in the patwari system, and the most commendable one was for free education for students with disabilities. None of the ads focused on party or government leaders, but on the issues.
When it comes to advertising by the Federal and the Punjab Government, the communication primarily serves as a political megaphone, with the names of the personalities coming through, rather than the message. However, the ads released by the Population Welfare Department of the Sindh Government and by the Punjab Government on raising awareness about AIDS were relatively better compared to most government ads. However, almost all these ads fell short on creativity, design, impact and memorability. There is a lack of consistency in the design (with the exception of photographs of party or government leaders). Green is used predominantly, but the use of colours leaves a lot to be desired.
One cannot blame the agencies because in most cases they are forced to place a lot of, sometimes irrelevant, information in the ads, leaving no room for conceptual design. I don’t think audiences really bother with the messages, because all governments have a tendency of announcing initiatives, but not implementing them. Government ads will improve only when individual politicians stop taking credit for every initiative.
Sarah K. Yaldram is Creative Director, Firebolt63. firstname.lastname@example.org