Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Jul-Aug 2018

The curious case of the missing big idea

Asrar Alam laments a singular lack of originality.

Big ideas are MISSING –and I’m sorry to break it to you, but our advertising industry needs them badly. Dozens of commercials play on our TV screens day in and day out, all in an annoying cookie-cutter fashion. Freshness is poured into every cup and glass, lawn collections and clothing lines are coining new hashtags every day and every cookie claims to be freshly oven-baked.

Every other brand in Pakistan is either repeating the same old narrative or desperately trying to steal the spotlight; they are failing miserably to stand out. When I see brands falling short of new ideas to campaign, I see one problem and one problem only; no true consumer insight, no unique brand narrative and, in short, no big idea.

In the Pakistani advertising industry, big ideas are not deemed important. If you watch Pakistani primetime TV and compare it to another country’s primetime TV content, the difference is stark and immediately apparent. In this day and age, when consumers are more and more aware about products, brands and advertising, it is a miracle that Pakistani brands are surviving without big ideas. All their media spends, senseless jingles and pointless song and dance either entertain or annoy the audience; as far as creating impact goes, it can easily be said that it gets lost in the noise.

Before we get into the absence of big ideas or a brand ideology, let’s first try to dig a little deeper and explore the possible causes. Some questions to consider: Is the search for big ideas for a brand as challenging as it is thought to be? Are advertising industry experts failing to pay enough attention to this issue and find it easier to produce meaningless ads? Is the audience too dumb to understand something bigger than pointless nonsense? Or are the clients simply not interested in brand building and wish to focus only on numbers?

Since we are still an ATL-driven industry, let’s explore the curious case of similar TV commercials with missing big ideas. Although many may not agree with me, finding a big idea for Pakistani brands is not easy. Why? Let’s take the example of India; a country that does not shy away from showcasing its culture, challenging social norms or even the status quo, if need be. Their communications are insight-driven, the scripts and videography are true to the country’s roots and almost everything is openly discussed. Whereas we, as a nation, are not as deep-rooted, especially when it comes to advertising.

For example, Coke Studio Pakistan’s success, nationally and internationally, can easily be attributed to it being built on strong foundations, deeply rooted in, and showcasing Pakistani culture. Whereas Coke Studio India failed to bag the same amount of success, because no matter how much they try, they end up sounding too similar to Bollywood. This is why we hear of Indians copying our music, while we are busy copying their big ideas, insights and scripts in advertising. A fact neither country will admit to or accept, but it is indeed a reality we cannot deny.


Good copy and inspired scripts breathe life into ideas; the challenge for advertisers is to manipulate the same words to create a different meaning every time. It is the same words that eventually give meaning to the brand. The same goes for videos; visuals cannot be the same, as is often the case in Pakistani advertisements.


So when I say Pakistani advertisements are not deeply-rooted, I mean to say that we are not true to our nature, culture and roots. Experts in our advertising vicinity, including creative directors, copywriters and strategy makers are not completely unaware of this void. The fact is, big ideas are created and presented, but they never find their way into broad daylight; eventually they die a slow death and accept PowerPoint slides as their final resting place.

Good copy and inspired scripts breathe life into ideas; the challenge for advertisers is to manipulate the same words to create a different meaning every time. It is the same words that eventually give meaning to the brand. The same goes for videos; visuals cannot be the same, as is often the case in Pakistani advertisements. If you want your idea to capture people’s attention then it cannot be ‘stock footage commercial’ – a term I use for ads with painfully repetitive and similar shots.

More often than not, big ideas are lost in the tedious process of getting client approval. We must never forget that nurturing an idea is as important as creating it. Ideas should be strengthened at every step, so that they are successfully executed once they pass all the stages of approval. Another point is that clients too should act like creatives sometimes, and feel for an idea even if it’s risky. An advertising guru once said that if an idea doesn’t make you nervous, it’s not big enough. It should make you think twice and you should have butterflies in your stomach before you go for it. That is the rule of thumb; high risk, high returns.

If we want Pakistan’s ad industry to grow and be enriched, the change has to come from within; all stakeholders should work towards this as a team. It’s time we stop considering our audiences dumb and give them the value and respect they deserve. Local customers are the same people who share good ads from around the world on social media – maybe they are trying to make a point to Pakistani brands and advertisers.

Let’s start designing campaigns for people without unnecessary segregation and give them something new, something powerful. It’s about time we set the bar of intelligence much higher and give our audiences something to think about.


Asrar Alam is Creative Director, Spectrum Y&R. asrar@spectrumyr.com