Journey of an ad man
Published in Nov-Dec 2017
- "As print was the dominant medium for advertising, copy was extremely important. With limited visuals and that too in black-and-white, the emphasis was on communicating a message customers could relate to and never forget. That is the reason we can still remember some of the old jingles, press ads and slogans so well."
- "Advertising in those days was different in many ways, yet in some ways similar. An average day included meetings with clients, brainstorming sessions and of course, late nights – and plenty of them (that has definitely not changed)."
My journey into advertising began in the late 50s. I studied for my Secondary Board examinations at NJV High School and later graduated in drawing from the Government of Sind’s Department of Education in 1951. In 1953, after completing my high school examination, I joined S.M. Arts College. Then I joined Aga Khan Higher Secondary School for two years, teaching drawing and maths.
In 1956, on my uncle’s recommendation, I joined Manhattan Advertising as a commercial artist. My father was a poet and playwright whose pen name was Suman, and he encouraged me to pursue my interest in the fine arts and painting. As a result, I began my career as an artist and subsequently moved to the commercial arts. Painting and drawing fascinated me, and continue to do so. At the time, advertising was one of the few professions that were ideal for creative people.
I worked at several local and multinational advertising agencies until 1960, and then left for London and joined W.S. Crawford, one of the leading advertising agencies of the time. I joined their Art Department, and one of the brands that I worked on was PIA. While I was there, I started taking evening classes at the Central School of Arts and studied art and advertising. When Crawford decided to open a branch office in Karachi in 1962, I was transferred there as an art director; our other major clients included ICI and Ferozsons.
"As print was the dominant medium for advertising, copy was extremely important. With limited visuals and that too in black-and-white, the emphasis was on communicating a message customers could relate to and never forget. That is the reason we can still remember some of the old jingles, press ads and slogans so well."
In 1963, PIA moved to another multinational ad agency. Seeing the writing on the wall, I decided to start my own advertising firm, Asiatic Advertising, in partnership with the late Sultan Ghulamani. In 1966, another friend, Shaukat Fancy, left his father’s business and joined us. In 1969, Ghulamani left and in 1970, Ghayasuddin Sheikh joined as a Finance Director and Framroze H. Punthakey left JWT and joined us as a Client Service Director. Fancy left Asiatic in 1971, and the remaining three musketeers began to diligently build an ethical and respected advertising business.
Advertising in those days was different in many ways, yet in some ways similar. An average day included meetings with clients, brainstorming sessions and of course, late nights – and plenty of them (that has definitely not changed). An artist by inclination and training, I occasionally took refuge in painting to relieve me from the stress of working late hours.
In fact, I spent so much time at the office that my wife told my sons, Karim and Amin, to avoid advertising, and that if they did choose it as a profession, they should abandon the notion of getting married, since it was not possible to pursue a career in advertising and remain married. However, Karim proved her wrong by managing a highly successful career in advertising while staying married. Amin tried to conform to his mother’s aspirations by taking up the sciences to become a doctor. However, after a few months, he too decided that his heart was not in it; the lure of marketing was too strong for him to resist. Clearly, my passion for, and commitment to, my work was contagious as Karim and Amin were strongly drawn to advertising and marketing from an early age, despite persistent efforts by their mother to dissuade them.
Many hours of our days were spent conducting market research, and I think that the people who worked in advertising then – before matters became more streamlined – really knew their consumers inside out. I say this because at that time, agencies would receive a 15% commission on media placements; we would usually use the money to focus on the capacity-building of our employees and research, which would provide us with consumer insights to help design our campaigns.
"Advertising in those days was different in many ways, yet in some ways similar. An average day included meetings with clients, brainstorming sessions and of course, late nights – and plenty of them (that has definitely not changed)."
Singer once approached me about advertising their latest computerised machines that made sweaters. I suggested market research to find out about the target customers before proceeding. We sent our team to the market and discovered that retailers found it convenient to sell the traditional sewing machines and were not interested in selling the computerised machines. The prices of these units were also steep, so we recommended that instead of an ad campaign, they should position their product at the middle-class entrepreneur and make it available in installments. They agreed, and the machines sold. We didn’t charge a penny for the research because we believed it was our responsibility to be honest with our client. Something else that took up a major part of our day was actual drawing; even the presentations we did for our clients were hand-drawn – unlike today, where we have Photoshop and PowerPoint to make things easier.
As print was the dominant medium for advertising, copy was extremely important. With limited visuals and that too in black-and-white, the emphasis was on communicating a message customers could relate to and never forget. That is the reason we can still remember some of the old jingles, press ads and slogans so well.
I remember Anwar Mooraj (who was a brilliant copywriter) and I going to Sandspit to brainstorm there. In my opinion, one of the best campaigns I did was for Prince Glass. They introduced hanging ceiling light shades, and their budget was only enough for one press ad. While brainstorming, I pointed my hand at the ceiling and made a downward motion to show that the ceiling is common in every house and suddenly, Anwar said he got an idea: “Beauty descends from the ceiling.” The client loved it, and we released the ad.
Our other clients included Beecham, Habib Insurance, Jet, Johnson & Johnson, KLM, Singer and Tibet; sadly, many of these brands are no longer in Pakistan. Such was our success that in 1989, we entered the international arena and became associates of J. Walter Thompson Worldwide, and in the process, gained brands such as Kodak, Lipton, Lux, and Shell. In 2001, JWT acquired Asiatic. Although they bought 100% of the business, they requested us to stay and continue to run the it. I became Chairman and Karim became the youngest president of a JWT office worldwide. Asiatic, which began with five staff members in 1963, had 150 of the best and brightest ad men and women in Pakistan by the time it was acquired by JWT.
Along this journey, what has remained constant is a belief that society, and not nature, turns us into handicapped individuals. We gave a few handicapped individuals a chance to prove themselves in the art studio. We trained four hearing-and speech-impaired people, and a physically-handicapped person. Today, two of these four artists are settled in the US and doing exceptionally well. The other two are still working with the company. In 1976, when Asiatic opened, we had a deaf-and-dumb art director, who was a graduate of NCA Lahore.
In many ways, these are like the handicaps that many ad men and women impose on themselves these days when building brands, strategies and creative routes. Although times change, people’s preferences vary and brands will come and go, the basic idea of appealing to people’s inner nature will always be the cornerstone of good advertising; the need to go farther, feel better, eat healthier and get more done will always be a driving force. If we can effectively communicate these, and other fundamental concerns, advertising will remain immortal.
Presently I am the Chairman and Director of Asiatic Public Relations. My honourary work includes being a founder member of The Patients’ Behbud Society at AKUH, a board member of the National Academy of Performing Arts and a trustee of the Foundation of Museum of Modern Art. Although my days of advertising are behind me, I can safely say that I miss them very much.
Anwar Rammal is Chairman and Director, Asiatic Public Relations Network. email@example.com
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