When I saw the description of the new ad that J. Walter Thompson did for Khaadi, I was intrigued. It read: "Shot in the cold misty train stations of Pakistan – an unforgettable journey of two friends out to discover new adventures.” With my curiosity fully sparked, I played the ad and was pulled in immediately, with the sound of the train transporting me to another time and place.
The film opens with a stunning shot of a clock at the train station, followed by interior shots of the train, where a leather-bound book and vintage suitcase lay on passenger seats, creating an air of suspense and mystery. Suddenly, a woman appears inside this Orient Express inspired train, the likes of which I haven’t see in Pakistan, carrying a small brown valise. By this point I am hooked, and wanting a bag of popcorn. I want to know who she is and where the story is headed.
Unfortunately, what happens in the next 30 odd seconds is beyond me and leaves me wondering if what I saw was just a badly edited teaser for a longer film rather than the complete TV ad itself. I am still very puzzled.
“What’s the story?” is a question I find myself asking a lot these days when I look at Pakistani ads.
Reality check everyone; a series of beautifully-crafted images, featuring gorgeous models in exquisite settings, does NOT make for a good ad. All these components are important, no doubt, but they are not above a strong storyline. It frustrates me so much to see ad agencies make the same mistake again and again. They focus on the components rather than the larger picture, not caring about cohesion at all.
This ad is a classic case of powerful components which when combined do nothing for the audience. The models are gorgeous, the location perfect and the wardrobe beautiful – yet, I am less than charmed. On the contrary, I am left with too many questions. Why are there two models, when Sadaf Kanwal is the one who is featured predominantly? Why is Kanwal styled in so many different looks when the story (or lack of) does not merit these changes? Where is everyone else on the train? If they are friends, why don’t they meet? Someone please tell me what the heck is going on! Even if this is just a teaser or trailer, it has failed, because in a teaser, I would look for elements that would make me want to come back for more. Here I am just left confused.
To J. Walter Thompson’s credit, I loved how the concept of the ad was described (on Facebook). It conjured up images of different cities in Pakistan, of train stations and hot tea, of shared moments, of adventure and excitement. I understand that in 30 seconds, it would be foolish to squeeze in so many elements because the ad would only appear cluttered, but that does not mean that the team should completely ignore the concept in the execution and this is what I felt happened here. Not only did I miss the story, but what I saw was haphazardly arranged and even more confusing. Kanwal’s shifting positions and continuously changing styles had my brain in a flux.
The soundtrack was brilliant and I loved the crescendo and suspense but the lack of story meant that the music composition, powerful as it was, fell flat because the visuals did not match the rhythm. All in all, it was disappointing that a concept this good was lost in execution. I am still hoping that this was just a teaser and that the actual film will be much more engaging.
Sheherzad Kaleem is a documentary filmmaker based in Dubai. firstname.lastname@example.org.