Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2017

Finding Pakistaniat

Tyrone Tellis on giving Pakistani advertising a distinct identity.

Pakistan is at a crossroads. Sadly, in the last 20 years or so, many of our advertising campaigns have been as clichéd as my opening sentence. As the nation turns 70, it’s interesting to reflect on the role advertising has played in our history and how crucial it is to leading Pakistan forward. I was born in the 70s and (fortunately or unfortunately) lived abroad for a large part of my life, so I have little link to the advertising of the 60s, 70s or even the 80s. However, on my return in the 90s, I became familiar with one of the names of the past who is known as an advertising legend, Omar Kureishi.

Reading his piece in DAWN every Sunday was like being in a time machine. There is no doubt that it was his skill that helped create the aura of PIA as a brand ambassador for Pakistan on the world stage. However, times have changed and the national carrier and our advertising industry are no longer world class (if our advertising industry ever was, I am not sure). Another name that comes to mind, and is inseparable from the advertising of the 70s and 80s, is Javed Jabbar. His agency, MNJ Communications, is still regarded as more of an institution than a company. The campaigns they produced are looked upon with the same fondness one might look at the baby pictures of a child now married. You remember those days, you yearn for them, but you can’t bring them back.


Every August 14, we see the same hackneyed creative ideas on display; flag-waving, milli naghmas and green everywhere. This year, there was a change in the air and to my delight, campaigns from HabibMetro, Khaadi and Strepsils broadened the canvas on which marketers play.


Even today, Jabbar is a thought leader in the communications industry and a leading figure in Pakistan. His talks are well-attended and everyone wants to hear what he has to say. I have been a fan of his for some years and more recently, thanks to a refreshing campaign by HabibMetro, I was introduced to his concept of Pakistaniat.

Every August 14, we see the same hackneyed creative ideas on display; flag-waving, milli naghmas and green everywhere. This year, there was a change in the air and to my delight, campaigns from HabibMetro, Khaadi and Strepsils broadened the canvas on which marketers play. I firmly believe that the key to establish a national identity in advertising is Pakistaniat.

I am not only talking about ways to market Pakistan abroad, but about how brands can move away from the tried-and-tested (and clutter-inducing) concepts in order to sell their products.

So what exactly is Pakistaniat and what does it entail?

As displayed in the HabibMetro ad, it is about embracing plurality. Our nation is predominantly Muslim, but advertisers need to include religious minorities and in a similar vein, we have within the national fabric, various cultures, customs and languages. These too, need to be acknowledged and appreciated by advertisers. Marketers should take pride in our diversity and move away from stereotypical concepts and executions, which instead of promoting our beautiful ethnic culture and diversity, in fact, insult them.

Brands need to unite, and not divide us, by repeating the same formula again and again. Most importantly, harking back to the ads created by Kureishi about our land having a history which goes beyond Bin Qasim; in fact, we have 5,000 years of rich heritage and culture. To quote that epic PIA ad I can never forget, that is our competitive advantage and pride. This would mean, for example, showcasing the Buddhist stupas, the Sikh gurdwaras or the fabrics of Thar, instead of sticking to images of Faisal Mosque or the Mazar-e-Quaid. This is important because our largest demographic group (the young) are woefully unaware of the different facets of what it means to be Pakistani, just as much as they are unaware (especially in urban centres like Karachi) of how beautiful Pakistan is.

Another change needed, as expounded by Pakistaniat, is a more realistic portrayal of the status quo. Advertisers should be discouraged from endorsing messages that defy reality and steer away from rosy depictions. Instead, they should acknowledge and even tackle issues such as cultural change and corruption. There are problems in Pakistan and we should be concerned about them rather than sweep them under the carpet.

Brands need to encourage the public to hope and find the courage to change the direction in which the country is heading. In fact, brands have an immense responsibility; they have the money, power and ability to bring about change. An offshoot of this is for brands to air their campaigns responsibly. This would mean foregoing ratings and boycotting programmes that endorse hate speech, prejudice or sensationalism. This will not be easy to do and the cost will be high in terms of short-term effectiveness, but in the long run, the rewards will be immense.


Brands need to encourage the public to hope and find the courage to change the direction in which the country is heading. In fact, brands have an immense responsibility; they have the money, power and ability to bring about change.


In the recent past, there have been renewed efforts to brand Pakistan and change its global perception as a dangerous and ugly place. If marketers and communication leaders do not have in-depth knowledge about their country, as demanded by Pakistaniat, how can they be expected to market the country properly? Sadly, big budget efforts such as the branding of London buses are not as effective as was, for example, the visit of an American comedian to Lahore and Islamabad. Why? Because he was on ground and embraced the ‘Pindi boys’, CD70s and other seemingly distasteful or unimportant aspects of our society. You cannot market a country by sitting in an air-conditioned office in a big city. Nor can you market a brand if you have not, to some extent, experienced the life challenges of your target audience.

The last aspect of Pakistaniat is about building bridges with our neighbours, especially India. Brands do not need to copy Indian campaigns and instead of being fiercely nationalistic, they need to promote peace and tolerance based on mutual respect and cooperation. Understanding the importance of this is linked to a simple fact, not known by many. Whether you are a city or a province or a country, the ultimate goal is not independence but interdependence. This, for me, is the soul and essence of Pakistaniat, and the golden rule our marketers should strive for in the next 70 years of our advertising industry.


Tyrone Tellis is a marketing professional working in Pakistan. tyrone.tellis@gmail.com