A review of The Dawn of Advertising in Pakistan (1947-2017).
One of the challenges in doing this review is not to be gushy. The DAWN Special Report The Dawn of Advertising in Pakistan (1947-2017), overwhelms with its 92-pages of rich content. It appears that there’s little from the world of advertising that the editors did not cover – from the pioneers to the evolution of the industry and future trends. In a unique approach, the story of advertising is told through a comic strip that captures many of the milestones as well as the personalities that together have shaped advertising in Pakistan as we see it today.
As the cliché goes, the first impression is the lasting one. The cover of this Special Report strikes you with its accurate symbolism and excellent execution. Many elements of the current consumer culture are captured as the ‘Super(ad)man’ descends on an urban landscape where some leading brands compete for space and attention while the audience appears riveted by the adman.
The Special Report has managed to capture the intrinsic link between developments in the advertising sector and the media. It establishes how both co-related areas of the communication industry were inter-dependent in the earlier decades but drifted apart as the advertising business fragmented and media buying houses entered the scene.
Published in collaboration with Aurora, the report greatly benefits from the professional knowledge and expertise of the Aurora team. This is evident not only from the range of issues covered but the insights that each article brings into various aspects of advertising. Aurora, of course, is widely acknowledged as a publication in a class of its own, covering the Pakistan advertising and marketing industry.
The Special Report has managed to capture the intrinsic link between developments in the advertising sector and the media. It establishes how both co-related areas of the communication industry were inter-dependent in the earlier decades but drifted apart as the advertising business fragmented and media buying houses entered the scene. The nostalgia of yesteryears is finely balanced with the dynamism of the present, projecting an overall optimistic view of the future of advertising. However, the darker side of the business is also exposed, such as in the comic strip Four Sleazy Kickback Scenarios. It truthfully depicts the occasions when greed supersedes professional considerations; the comic strip treatment is cleverly used to somewhat lessens the harshness of the indictment.
As an ‘old-timer’ in the advertising profession, I must confess to being drawn in more into pieces that are nostalgic of bygone years. Among the most evocative ‘nostalgia’ pieces is Durriya Kazi’s tribute to cinema billboard and poster painters Investing Icons with Star Power. This form of art was ubiquitous in our cities much before large-screen, printed vinyl and panaflex signs began to be used for outdoor advertising. These billboard painters started as cinema hoarding painters and some later entered the advertising industry bringing in their experience of illustrating the human form in a realistic – and usually exaggerated – style. Describing the power of their paintbrush, she wonders: “Would Maula Jat have become such a success without the blood-stained posters of Sultan Rahi? Would Neelo or Mira have looked quite so sexy? Mohammad Ali and Waheed Murad so romantic? Rani quite so tragic? Badar Munir so fierce?”
The most endearing part of the report is clearly the tribute to the pioneers of advertising, starting with Prince Abbas Wajid Mirza and ending with Imran Mir.
Similarly, in two articles on Karachi’s erstwhile night life and music scene, Leon Menezes depicts the uninhibited entertainment there was once upon a time in Karachi. I recall Dawn’s pages carrying ads of the city’s once exuberant nightlife; once an almost daily feature of the newspaper, today they appear as curiosities. Faraz Maqsood Hamidi on PIA strikes a chord with those who have an affectionate attachment to the airline as it once was and its advertising. Reviewing the ads decades later, one realises that several may not stand the test of political correctness today – an example: images of a little girl engaged in ‘hospitality’ activities with the message that PIA starts its training rather early. However, the article reinforces all that was great about PIA by using the three letters of its name to talk about various aspects of its success in the decades of the sixties and seventies.
PIA’s memorable ad copy belongs to a time when creativity in the written word was highly valued. Dawn’s special report appropriately acknowledges this by devoting half a page to the copy written by Javed Jabbar, whose copywriting abilities remain unsurpassed; one of the reasons being the shrinking importance given to the power and beauty of language. This page also carries a half page report on MNJ Communications, the trailblazer agency of the seventies and eighties. However, it’s a pity that the article ignores the contribution of Majeed Ahmed (the ‘M’ of MNJ) who was indisputably among the brilliant graphic designers of the time.
If nostalgia is one of the pillars of the Special Report, another is the focus on the new age of advertising, dominated by the digital medium. Several articles cover the phenomenal rise of the social media in Pakistan from different angles. Similarly, new developments such as media buying houses, the entry of FM radio and the resurgence of cinema are adequately covered while the role of the older media institutions such as Pakistan Television and Radio Pakistan are recalled. A series ‘Brand Odyssey’ interspersed on various pages of the report familiarise younger readers with the history of iconic brands such as Dalda, Dettol, Pakola, Rooh Afza and Lux among many others.
The Dawn of Advertising in Pakistan (1947-2017) is fittingly bookended with two articles by Mariam Ali Baig, Editor, Aurora. In the lead article, she gives an overview of the advertising business, past and present while in the closing she looks at the challenges the industry is likely to face in the coming years.
The most endearing part of the report is clearly the tribute to the pioneers of advertising, starting with Prince Abbas Wajid Mirza and ending with Imran Mir. Each piece of memory is affectionately shared by a close relative of the profiled pioneer, giving the reader insights that would not have otherwise emerged. Nida Haider rightly calls her father, Naseer Haider, A Practitioner and a Gentleman. Her piece evokes warm memories of the head of IAL whom friends would often tease for his resemblance to Clark Gable! I was happy to see Semyne Khan’s homage to her uncle, the founder of SASA, Shahzada Ahmed Shah (aka Lal Mian). Sadly, much of the great work done by SASA is fading from public memory. In the seventies, along with MNJ, SASA was recognised as one of the most creative ad agencies.
The photographs by Arif Mahmood are excellent – without exceptions. It was a daunting task to cover a diversity of personalities and locations and capture their unique characteristics. From the picture of Marriyum Aurangzeb, Minister of State for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage, in her office in Islamabad, to the young team at BBDO justifiably posing with their awards, Mahmood’s photographs add to the richness and texture of the Report. However, the same cannot be said of the illustrations which are of uneven quality. The most disappointing is the comic strip telling the story of Pakistan’s advertising. The illustration does little justice to the unique idea and the research that went into putting the 70 years’ story together in an engaging way.
The Dawn of Advertising in Pakistan (1947-2017) is fittingly bookended with two articles by Mariam Ali Baig, Editor, Aurora. In the lead article, she gives an overview of the advertising business, past and present while in the closing she looks at the challenges the industry is likely to face in the coming years. She aptly asks, “Will our new superheroes please stand up?” That is a tough question to put to the industry. However, the Special Report could have profiled some of advertising’s young rising stars as well.
Zohra Yusuf is Chief Creative Officer, Spectrum Y&R.