I established Oscar in 1963. However, how I got into advertising in the first place is another story. My ambition was to become a journalist, but in those days, one could only enter into journalism if one was a graduate… and I was not.
After my father’s death, we went through a great deal of turmoil. Before Partition, we lived in Bihar. After Independence, we moved to Chittagong and then came to Karachi in 1951. I had to look for employment to make ends meet and my education was left half way.
I worked for a couple of years for Sui Gas Transmission Company and then moved to Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL). The idea of doing something of my own appealed to me and I thought about advertising because there were many non-graduates in the profession. My brother Mazhar was a friend of S.H. Hashmi and was working at Orient Advertising. Truth be told, neither Mazhar nor Hashmi were very well versed in advertising at that point.
In fact, it was Hashmi’s elder brother Mateen (he worked for Alpha Insurance), who opened Orient in a room in Dawn’s offices in New Challi in 1953. He told Hashmi to sit there and do some work. Any client who came to put an ad in Dawn was directed to Orient, and in this way, Orient earned a commission and the agency flourished. In those days, the clients were mostly textile companies.
Orient started doing well and Mazhar was sent to Dhaka to open a branch there. When he came back in 1963, I suggested we open our own agency. In order not to burn our boats, I intended to keep working at PPL. However, to my surprise, my boss A.Y. Khan (the Chief Accountant at PPL) called me in one day and said I would never make it as an accountant. He then gave the key to his old office at Oriental Chambers and told me to start my advertising business. I was speechless. I didn’t have words to thank him. The next day I took possession of 15 Oriental Chambers. Our office had three tables, seven chairs of which four were broken, one stool and a rack, a phone that was out of order on account of non-payment, one bell, one ashtray, one lock and two keys – just enough to start an agency. Mazhar and I painted the office ourselves. I then asked Irfan Haleem who was my colleague at PPL, to join Oscar as a partner. We decided to call the agency Oscar as Mazhar and I felt it had good recall.
In those days, the big players were foreign agencies such as D.J. Keymer, Grant Advertising, JWT, Stronach Advertising and Crawford Advertising. After Partition, there were hardly any trained professionals, except for those who came from India. I divide the admen of those early years into two categories. The pioneers; they were the ones who had no experience in advertising, yet they started their own agencies and trained themselves on-the-job. They included people such as Mohammad Mushtaq (National Advertisers); Chaudhry Abdul Ghafour (United Advertisers) who was well-read in Persian, Urdu and English literature; Sultan Mahmud, who previously worked in the Ministry of Finance and then joined Ghafour in 1950; Ashraf Muhammad (Spotlit Advertising); Aziz and Bashir Khan (Manhattan); Lutfullah and Amanullah Khan (Kays Advertising); Nawabzada Wajid Mahmood (Adarts); Jamil Siddiqui (Marketing & Advertising) and Sadiqul Khairi (Khairi Advertising).
In the second category were those with agency experience and who later set up on their own. They included Akhlaq Ahmad, who initially worked for National Advertisers as an Art Director after which he joined Stronach Advertising. He then rejoined National Advertisers and in 1959, started Adcom. Iqbal Mir worked for United Advertising as an Account Executive before starting Prestige in 1960. Taher A. Khan worked for MNJ as an Account Executive and then moved to Paragon. He finally set up Interflow Communications in 1983. The only two people I know who were trained in the real sense were Javed Jabbar and Naseer Haider. They both were sent to the UK when they were at IAL. Javed was trained as a concept writer. He established MNJ in 1969, in partnership with Majeed Ahmed and Nafees Ghaznavi. He is, in my opinion, the most brilliant advertising man in Pakistan. In the sixties, creativity was the most important thing. It was more about illustrations and photography was not a very active part of advertising. In those days, every agency had an English and an Urdu copywriter. Small agencies which could not afford to hire copywriters would hire them on a part-time basis. People such as Mr Enwary who worked for the British Council is an example; Anwar Mooraj an English copywriter; and Shahid Salamat, a great Urdu copywriter at Lintas.
In those days, once the copy was written, it was sent to the visualiser who would think of an illustration to go with the copy. The image would then be sketched and the text typed out on a manual typewriter. The graphic artist would mark ‘bold, upper case, lower case, 36 points’ on headlines and similar things on the body copy. This text would then go to a typesetter; most of them were located on McLeod Road. The typesetters would set the text using Letraset and print it out on an art paper. Then it would be put on a board, each line was cut individually and pasted on the design.
For an Urdu ad, the handwritten copy was sent to a calligrapher, after which each line would be cut and pasted in the same way done for English ads. Putting together a single ad would take about two to three days. And there was no guarantee the client would like it. He might tell you to do it all over again.
S.M. Shahid established Oscar Advertising in 1963, in a little room in a commercial building. The agency remained in business for over three decades. He played an instrumental role in organising both the first Pakistan Advertising Congress in 1979 and AdAsia 89. The logo and publications for the event were designed by Oscar Advertising. He acted and scripted a satire on advertising called Client, Client, which was later published as a book. In order to pursue classical music, photography and writing, he handed over the agency business to his daughter Sadia and her husband. He went on to study vocal classical music with Ustad Wilayat Ali Khan. Melody Queen – Tributes to Pakistan’s Superstar Noor Jehan, is a book accompanied by a CD of 20 immortal songs compiled and edited by him. Among his other books are Classical Music of The Subcontinent – an Introduction, Immortal Film Songs – inspired by Raags, Abba Bataeaye, Prem Sangeet, Jungle Ki Dunya, Sketches by Salman, Pappoo Yaar Tang Na Kar, Ghalib Kay Urain Gay Purzay and Tuzk-e-Ziaee.
First published in THE DAWN OF ADVERTISING IN PAKISTAN (1947-2017), a Special Report published by DAWN on March 31, 2018.