Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Creative essence and brass tacks

Updated Apr 16, 2018 09:46am
MNJ's unique role as an incubator.
Illustration by Marium Ali
Illustration by Marium Ali

If you ask anyone to recall a memorable advertisement from the seventies, the chances are high that they will cite one that was released by MNJ Communications.

The advertising agency, which was formed in 1969 by three admen (Javed Jabbar, Nafees Ghaznavi and Majeed Ahmed) and was led by Jabbar, who, it would not be an exaggeration to say, is admired by most admen and women and usually referred to as ‘JJ’.

Under Jabbar’s supervision, MNJ flourished. He is credited for being the brains behind many memorable campaigns, including those for Peek Freans ‘Listen to the sound of the day, follow him around and away’.

Such was the power of his idea that the Pied Piper continues to have a presence on the brand’s packaging to this day; other memorable lines include ‘Lyla is a Lady’ and the famous Alexander ad, development for the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation Pakistan: ‘Guess who came to Pakistan the other day? Alexander.’

In addition to being responsible for creative campaigns in the seventies and eighties, MNJ played another pivotal role when it came to advancing Pakistan’s advertising industry. It turns out that many of the people who worked there went on to shape the future of the industry by becoming trailblazers in their own right, as well as training a new generations of advertising people.

There are too many to name, but they include Shahnoor Ahmed, CEO, Spectrum Y&R; Mariam Ali Baig, Founding Editor, Aurora; Saneeya Hussain, a communications icon who later worked as the weekend Editor of Star and as Communications Director at IUCN; Seema Taher Khan, CEO, Airwaves Media; Taher Anwar Khan, Chairman, Interflow Communications and Zohra Yusuf, Chief Creative Officer, Spectrum Y&R.


Jabbar encouraged his employees to read books written by influential advertising people, such as the seminal Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy and Jerry Della Femina’s From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbour (later to become the inspiration for the TV show Mad Men).


Anybody who is ‘somebody’ in the industry has, in some way, been trained or influenced by them, which in a way, speaks volumes for Jabbar’s legacy.

So what made MNJ an incubator par excellence? The answer, it is the ‘company culture’ Jabbar created – and this, years, if not decades, before the term became an HR buzzword. In fact, from what one can gather from speaking to the people who worked at MNJ, it is safe to conclude that Jabbar actively mentored his employees – at least the ones who showed promise. He was always ready to teach and inspire.

Yusuf, in an article she wrote in Meet our friend JJ says: “In the 3,650 or more days I spent at MNJ, I never stopped learning. And Javed Jabbar never hesitated to teach. Not only me, but anyone willing to listen; open their minds and explore. We were encouraged (if not gently ordered) to see major films, particularly foreign films shown at various cultural centres, as well as go to the theatre… JJ ensured that creative people did not remain in their familiar cocoons. He would send us off to Kharadar one week, Orangi another.”

Jabbar encouraged his employees to read books written by influential advertising people, such as the seminal Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy and Jerry Della Femina’s From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbour (later to become the inspiration for the TV show Mad Men).


“‘Creative Essence and Brass Tacks’ was the motto crafted for MNJ when JJ established the agency. His genius was that he succeeded in making this motto part of the DNA of the people who spent their formative professional years working closely with him.” 


Having sent his team off to read a book, watch a film or go to an art show, Jabbar would then encourage them to write reviews on their perceptions – and always ready to go through their efforts line by line, helping them hone their skills.

It was not all fun and games at MNJ. Ahmed recalls that “working with JJ was a unique experience; he was a slave driver who had the ability to lead his team and make work look like fun. He was in the office early and liked to work late. The two years I spent at MNJ defined my future and working with JJ opened my mind and gave me the confidence to venture out on my own.”

As Ahmed says, working late was the norm at MNJ, and many other former MNJ employees can attest to this. However, according to the people who remember, those late nights not only resulted in creative campaigns – but in ‘camaraderie and spirit’ between the team, many of whom either work with each other today, or have remained friends.

This, perhaps, is due to the fact that although they worked in different departments, be it production, creative or client services while at MNJ, they were exposed to each other’s functions and did not work in silos, as is wont to happen today.

Such was Jabbar’s influence that he even inspired people who did not work with him. For example, according to Masood Hashmi, President, OrientmMcCann: “I always tried to adopt Mr Jabbar’s way of driving things and managing constructive inputs to lead a team in the right direction. From a distance, I kept learning from his greatness at work, while gaining inspiration from his mindset.” The inspiration was not limited to work; Hashmi confesses that he wanted to “be like Mr Jabbar… I wanted to eat, walk, talk and think like him.”

Perhaps it is Baig who best sums up the influence of MNJ – and, obviously Jabbar’s – on the advertising industry. “‘Creative Essence and Brass Tacks’ was the motto crafted for MNJ when JJ established the agency. His genius was that he succeeded in making this motto part of the DNA of the people who spent their formative professional years working closely with him.” 

Mamun M. Adil is a leading advertising and communications expert at Aurora. mamun.adil@gmail.com

First published in THE DAWN OF ADVERTISING IN PAKISTAN (1947-2017), a Special Report published by DAWN on March 31, 2018.