In my younger and more impressionable years, I attended a beach party unlike any other. We drove for two hours towards Baleji Beach. Along the way (say, every five miles or so), there were attendants posted on the wayside who were instructed to flag down guests’ cars and hand each passenger, a beautifully-wrapped piece of Belgian chocolate in a small, single-serving branded box, garnished with the symbol of a Roman goddess. I must have devoured five, maybe six.
At every pit stop, the attendants reconfirmed to us that the darkness that we were rubbing against and driving through would eventually pale and surrender to the glittering spectacle that would forever be archived in our hearts as the Inaugural Aurora Awards – the country’s first occasion to honour advertising creativity, hosted by the newspaper in your hands.
This was the winter of 1992. It was a time when there were hardly a handful of newspapers, magazines and even fewer radio and TV channels. For us younger lot, who were just beginning to understand that an imagination is where smart businesses mint their profits, our burgeoning ad industry seemed to be myopically orchestrated around the priorities of newspaper barons and the agency moguls they did business with. Awards were based on billings, not thinking. There really was no voice for the craftsmen of the ideas economy – the poets and the artists – until I came across that night of nights, which was both regal and rustic, oceanic and epic, and honoured our creative firebrands with myth and magic, courtesy of Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn.
By March 2000, Aurora had become religion. It was the only trade rag that was dressed with an eye for design and an ear for newsworthiness.
We took the unmistakable pun to heart and primed the ambitious, prize-hungry parts of ourselves for an annual flirt with our very own deity. But it would be another 15 years before a smaller, more business-like Aurora Awards would be staged at Mohatta Palace in March 2007. But it no longer mattered. The goddess had descended. And she reappeared six years later in July 1998, in her more permanent avatar as a complimentary advertising trade magazine – rife and scintillant with news, views, opinions and analyses of the industry, which was sent to select agency professionals, who guarded their copy with a vigilance you would reserve for things made out of gold and not the intangibles made from the stuff of dreams.
By March 2000, Aurora had become religion. It was the only trade rag that was dressed with an eye for design and an ear for newsworthiness. Both agency professionals and marketing students had slipped into avowed disciplehood and demanded that Aurora be made available via subscriptions and on newsstands across the country – which it continues to do, breaking records year after year, and outstripping the sales figures of more commercially-minded magazines.
As Aurora turned into habit, it took its mandate as the voice of the industry to a higher octave by publishing the first Aurora Fact File in its November–December 2001 issue – a formidable attempt to organise, corroborate and document key data about the industry, such as ad spend and top agencies. Since then, the Fact File is published every year in Aurora’s special annual November-December issue and is the default reference and footnote to many PowerPoint presentations in boardrooms across Pakistan. This was further supported in 2003, with the publication of the first Aurora Purple Book – an agency directory that also contained statistics and key data from the Aurora Fact File. Ten years later, in 2013, with the digital economy in full swing, The Digi Handbook was launched as the online heart of the Aurora Purple Book series to give agency professionals a singular compendium that works as a reference, a toolkit and a yardstick.
As a former ad-gal and Aurora’s founding Editor, Mariam Ali Baig is more than an oracle for Pakistan’s advertising industry.
And there’s more. Year after year, in efforts to instil and inspire excellence across the board, Aurora’s talks, events, and conferences are designed to build greater understanding and impetus for professionals and young people alike. In 2006, Aurora's Marketing to the Young’ conference blasted myths and deep-seated prejudices about Generation Z. An especially important audience considering that the average age in today’s Pakistan is 22. Similarly, in 2007, ‘The New Value Seekers’ conference held in Karachi considered what the new customer values and what s/he places on that value in a hyper-fragmented, globally commoditised culture where marketers are no longer directly in control of the messages they wish to promote.
All this aside, Aurora wouldn’t be a goddess if it weren’t for the other woman. A human, for a change. As a former ad-gal and Aurora’s founding Editor, Mariam Ali Baig is more than an oracle for Pakistan’s advertising industry. Not only has she stage-managed the show since its inception, but has curated a team of skilled, trade-savvy journalists who have collectively given a voice to Ad Land. So much so, that the industry can neatly categorise its 70 years of existence as pre-Aurora and post-Aurora. When it comes to editorial integrity, Baig’s skin is made of Teflon. When it comes to creativity, she is among a rare breed of dreamers who can throw caution to the wind and let the stars film us for posterity.
Is there anything terrible that I can say about Aurora? I can. The ads it carries (for the lack of a better word) suck. I wish that someday the advertising that supports the magazine about advertising would become more befitting, more creatively resolute, and more apt for an audience who trade in creative and innovative expressions.
The advertising industry has long relied on the power of its muses. Which is why, we have welcomed Aurora with admiration – whether she admonishes or advises. She is, after all, the goddess that holds the sun in one hand and our dreams in the other.
Faraz Maqsood Hamidi is Co-Founder, Partner & Chief Creative Officer of The D’Hamidi Partnership.
First published in THE DAWN OF ADVERTISING IN PAKISTAN (1947-2017), a Special Report published by DAWN on March 31, 2018.