Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2018

Do you have the stamp of creativity?

Creative people don’t come with labels, so are agencies looking for them in the right places?

In the Indian film PK, when an alien asks a human to show him the ‘stamp’ on his body, I couldn’t help but go into a fit of laughter. The moment compelled me to ponder the depth of this seemingly simple statement and the message it conveyed. It made me realise that if everything in life came with a stamp, it would be so much easier to solve the puzzles that often boggle our minds. It made me wonder if creative people have a stamp on their bodies. Who decides if a person is creative or not? Does having a relevant degree mean a man or a woman is creative? Or is the level of creativity measured by the clothes they wear, that is to say, their outward appearance?

Imagine two clients walk into an agency and ask to meet the creative director, expecting a man with unruly hair, worn out jeans and a T-shirt with a rebellious slogan. What if they meet a well-dressed, tidy looking man in formal attire? Will they be confused because it is the ‘wrong’ stamp? In my experience, I have seen extraordinarily creative people dressed exceptionally well and I have seen employees desperately trying to pull off the ‘creative’ look but failing both in their work and their looks.


What is worse is the fact that creative people are inclined to leave the industry. There comes a point in their careers when they look for another level of satisfaction and regardless of the soundness of their decision, they make mid-career switches to different industries. Their urge to explore, experiment and display their talent by other means turns them into wanderers. Most of the time, we find them lost, shooting low-budget ad films before even hitting the point where they could be the next industry guru.


Today, if you go to any ad agency in Pakistan, you are likely to come across many creative people. But how do you know for sure if they really are creative? Do they have a stamp that says so? If you ask me, I would say that most of them are not really creative, at least not in the true sense of the word. There is nothing wrong with them, except that they are not right for the job because they don’t fit the bill. So why are the people working in the industry not as interesting as they should be? What is stopping them?

The theory that makes the most sense to me suggests that the ‘Mad Men charm’ that once existed in advertising is fading with the advent of the digital age. Gone are the days when the idea of advertising and the money that came with it was enough to pull in young people. The charm faded because reality is hardly ever what we want it to be. Advertising is a gruelling job with working weekends, long hours and sleepless nights, and where only a few get to travel and the rest are stuck to their workstations. Could this be a reason why most full-service ad agencies in Pakistan have a small number of really creative resources – people who can actually crack a brief and solve problems? Is the reality that only a few are working to create an impact while the rest are pushing boxes like factory workers?

Another theory that may explain why the attraction of advertising is fading is the fact that the profession is no longer the only highway. For talented individuals, there are now multiple avenues to explore. Today, businesses are growing like mushrooms; small and medium-sized digital agencies, TV channels, production houses, design houses, media houses, start-ups and BTL agencies. All offer the same remuneration and perks and all work with serious clients. So, the competition keeps getting tougher and the lines that once differentiated these business models continue to blur. A BTL agency can easily develop a digitally-led campaign and a film production house is fully equipped to pitch a concept for a TV commercial. All these shifts and role reversals have created a different kind of chaos.

Moreover, what is worse is the fact that creative people are inclined to leave the industry. There comes a point in their careers when they look for another level of satisfaction and regardless of the soundness of their decision, they make mid-career switches to different industries. Their urge to explore, experiment and display their talent by other means turns them into wanderers. Most of the time, we find them lost, shooting low-budget ad films before even hitting the point where they could be the next industry guru. So, next time someone asks you why there is no Piyush Pandey in Pakistan, you probably have the answer.

However, a good outcome has sprung from all this chaos. Do you ever wonder how all these video bloggers and stand-up comedians come up with such great ideas? The answer is they are the real creative people (and to answer the question regarding the stamp, well there isn’t one).


Creativity is considered magic and people from this business are deemed to be blue-blooded while the rest are like the Muggles in a Harry Potter story. Yet, the truth is that an idea can come from anywhere – a tea maker at a dhaaba can inspire you with a cultural insight or an even better idea. What creative agencies need are people who can conceptualise ideas and turn them into great ideas; sadly, we are alarmingly falling short of such people lately.


No stamp is required to be termed a creative professional; their work speaks for them. This is validated by the fact that nowadays, brand teams seek the help of vloggers and bloggers in developing customised ideas. However, the end product we see is not just one person’s job; these modern-day artists have their own creative and content teams working in the background. Slowly and gradually, this modern creative industry has created a self-sustaining ecosystem, which is proving successful both for the creative teams and the brand. However, as much as I appreciate the brand teams for engaging with multiple creative people with diverse skill sets, the one thing they must not forget is that they must always have a lead agency with brand custodianship capabilities, because it is not everyone’s cup of tea to look into the future and help the brand build sustainable ideas.

Creativity is considered magic and people from this business are deemed to be blue-blooded while the rest are like the Muggles in a Harry Potter story. Yet, the truth is that an idea can come from anywhere – a tea maker at a dhaaba can inspire you with a cultural insight or an even better idea. What creative agencies need are people who can conceptualise ideas and turn them into great ideas; sadly, we are alarmingly falling short of such people lately. No kid ever said to their mommy that they want to be a creative director when they grow up, yet here they are in the profession. Nobody knows where they come from. They might come from other creative fields or perhaps not. Who knows? They might be sitting next to you on a bus or giving you a fancy haircut at the barber’s or even selling you an insurance policy that you don’t need over the phone. But you will never know who they are because there is no stamp. Think about the analogy. It’s simple, amazing and relatable.


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