JAVED JABBAR: NO OBJECTIONS WHATSOEVER TO SMILING
“There were both negative and positive facets. The negative part was that one had to think twice about how to depict a woman in a commercial. On the other hand, when you have restrictions like these, you search for more innovative ways to express yourself aesthetically without crossing the red line. We were not alone in facing this. There are many examples from world cultural history. In 1979, after the Iranian Revolution, an extremely conservative government came to power. Despite the severe restrictions, over the next 20 to 25 years, Iranian cinema became one of the best in the world because they mastered the art of storytelling and were able to depict so many realistic facets of Iran.
In the early eighties, MNJ was proud to become the first agency in Pakistan to develop ads marking International Women’s Day with provocative headlines.
When restrictions are in place, if you are creative and thoughtful, you find ways of creative expression. MNJ did a campaign for Happy (a new EBM brand targeting a new niche: the middle and upper middle-income groups). We opted for a single shot commercial and the camera begins to close in on the face of a female model who smiles and the voiceover said, “be happy, have a biscuit.”
No one could object to someone being there and smiling. There was nothing obscene about this; she was not lewdly dressed. In the commercial for Tuk biscuits, the last shot was of a woman’s fist knocking to the beat of ‘tuk tuk’ and this became the brand’s signature; people registered high brand awareness of Tuk. So, we managed to find ways to show women in ads while remaining within the censorship guidelines. In the early eighties, MNJ was proud to become the first agency in Pakistan to develop ads marking International Women’s Day with provocative headlines. When there was a religious riot in the country in 1981, I had the privilege of writing an ad in The Star, which is a personal favourite and went: ‘Religious passion without human compassion is like God without godliness.”
Excepted from an interview with Javed Jabbar.
ANWAR RAMMAL: STRICTLY NO WINKING, PLEASE!
In the late seventies, under General Ziaul Haq’s Martial Law regime, stringent censorship laws with regard to the media were introduced. Although the penalties were extreme for journalists, ranging from 10 years in jail to public lashings, these policies also affected the advertising fraternity, as commercials aired on PTV were scrutinised and banned without reason. What made matters worse was the fact that the censorship code frequently changed so that having a commercial approved by the Censor Board became increasingly difficult, as most commercials were rejected on flimsy grounds. This resulted in financial loss to many clients.
For the most part, advertising agencies had to resort to an approach that boiled down to saying: ‘Please buy the product.’ Although a few advertising professionals did find ways to overcome this obstacle, many creative people became increasingly frustrated as they had no choice but stifle their creativity.
Of the many instances when Asiatic’s commercials were censored, I remember two distinctly. The first was one for Agfa cameras, because the actor who was shown taking a photograph in the commercial closed one of his eyes while doing so, and this was considered to be winking! At least this was the objection put forth by a member of the Censor Board, who happened to be very ‘religious’.
At times, I had to go to Islamabad to convince the Censor Board to approve our commercials. More often than not, we ended up wasting time and money, as we returned to Karachi with large cans of censored film reels. This happened so many times that eventually, many clients began to reduce their media budgets for TV and opted for newspaper advertisements or hoardings.
Of the many instances when Asiatic’s commercials were censored, I remember two distinctly. The first was one for Agfa cameras, because the actor who was shown taking a photograph in the commercial closed one of his eyes while doing so, and this was considered to be winking! At least this was the objection put forth by a member of the Censor Board, who happened to be very ‘religious’. I went to see him and took a camera with me. I requested him to try and take a photograph without shutting his eye. He accepted the challenge, saying that if he was unable to take the photo without ‘winking’, he would withdraw his objection. He took the camera and I asked his staff to watch him; as he took the photograph, he ended up closing one eye. He had no choice but to drop his objection.
The other commercial was for a milk product; after drinking a glass of milk, a boy licked his ‘milk moustache’ with his tongue. This time the objection was that it was ‘sexually provocative’. As there was no way to convince the Censor Board otherwise, the commercial was never aired.
Anwar Rammal is Chairman, Asiatic Public Relations Network. firstname.lastname@example.org
First published in THE DAWN OF ADVERTISING IN PAKISTAN (1947-2017), a Special Report published by DAWN on March 31, 2018.