Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2018

Creativity in the time of disruption

The challenge is to learn from the new while holding fast to the intrinsic worth of creativity.

In the tumult of change in the advertising world, there has been only one constant – ideas. In the past decades, we have witnessed the rise of professional education, the breaking of communication boundaries and the relentless march of technology. However, what can still evoke a gut-wrenching reaction, tears, laughter or even dissent, is the power of an idea.

Even as the advertising business has fragmented with many services taken over by newly emerging specialists (such as media planners and production houses), creative agencies have not lost their relevance. Clients still turn to them for ideas that will give their company’s products or services a distinctive identity and share of mind. So while the ad business has evolved – or rather transformed dramatically – creativity is an area that so far has remained the backbone of advertising agencies. However, while relevance remains, the challenges confronting creative teams often seem overpowering.

These challenges are directly related to the way the media in all its manifestations is transforming – and not just in terms of technology. For a start, we have so rapidly entered the age of low attention spans that creative people in agencies sometimes seem to be left behind. In the early years of advertising in Pakistan, undivided attention of consumers was a given. Newspapers were relied on for all kinds of information including information on products. Then came Radio Pakistan and over a decade later, Pakistan Television. Single channels with no competition.

Creative people had to learn to work not just in the frenzy of change the media was bringing about, but also in the rapidly competitive market environment. With the rise of consumerism – also a by-product of the media glut – brands began to compete more vigorously for share of mind. The demands and pressures on creative teams increased manifold. If there was pressure from clients to deliver, the fragmentation of the advertising business also led to competitiveness in the creative sphere. Small, independent creative workshops set up primarily by fresh graduates from art schools – or those disillusioned by ad agencies – began to compete for business. Those who had not adapted to the challenging times quickly burnt out.


The level of professionalism expected today from people in creative is a far cry from the time when that ‘aha!’ moment was enough to lead to groundbreaking ideas and their acceptance by clients. I still recall Javed Jabbar selling concepts – including the Peek Freans Pied Piper – over the phone and going out to film a commercial saying “the idea is in my head!” But times have changed and it can be debated whether spontaneity or well-rationalised strategies lead to greater creativity or effectiveness.


The evolution of the ad agency business coupled with higher expectations of professionalism from clients, has also necessitated the learning of new skills and use of tools. For a start, the creative brief has acquired a significance that is still not fully understood by the people writing them. Both clients and creative people in agencies go through the motions of filling out a form. A key requirement of an effective brief is that it must inspire creativity; this aspect is sadly missing from what emerges as a laundry wishlist. A bigger challenge is to create something unique within the confines dictated by a brief.

And then there’s research. While companies (particularly those in the highly-competitive FMCG business) have begun to invest in consumer research, agencies – including the creative teams – have yet to learn to sift research for consumer insights that may propel the idea towards an effective piece of communication. Today, the ability to analyse Brand Health Trackers (BHTs) and dig into consumer insights through face-to-face encounters are not the responsibility of marketing teams alone. They are more than buzzwords and crucial to the creation of concepts that strike a chord with the consumer. BHTs and consumer insights can, ultimately, become a strong backbone for the brand or its weakest link.

The level of professionalism expected today from people in creative is a far cry from the time when that ‘aha!’ moment was enough to lead to groundbreaking ideas and their acceptance by clients. I still recall Javed Jabbar selling concepts – including the Peek Freans Pied Piper – over the phone and going out to film a commercial saying “the idea is in my head!” But times have changed and it can be debated whether spontaneity or well-rationalised strategies lead to greater creativity or effectiveness.

Some ideas have proved to be timeless regardless of the communication revolution. The association of Dalda with mothers’ love with the tagline Jahan Mamta Wahan Dalda and that of film stars with Lux are among the evergreen examples. Among iconic visual symbols, the Peek Freans Pied Piper has stood the test of time, moving from a theme in TV commercials to an integral part of the brand identity on the biscuit range packs. These products have demonstrated the power of longevity and adapted seamlessly to changing times, whether in attitudes or the media environment.

However, not all approaches to creativity can be eternal. The transformations (evolutionary in Pakistan’s case) that are taking place in society have an impact on the kind of communication put out on the mass media. Over the years for example, we have witnessed a gradual change in the depiction of women. With more women entering the workforce and making conscious career choices, ads have begun to move from showing them primarily as props to support product messages to making them the centre of the communication. This recognition of women’s changing role has benefited many brands and causes. Dalda’s recent MeriAwaz campaign questions the stereotyping responsible for setting beauty standards or relegating women to certain accepted roles. National and Shan successfully put men in the kitchen, breaking another gender-based stereotype.

So among the skills needed in creative talent is heightened awareness of the changing perceptions of what is right and what is not. In a world where instant accessibility to the media is evoking instant responses, people in ad agencies have to be extra careful in not offending sensibilities. Or, on the positive side, promoting the right values. The recent campaigns for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan focusing on issues voters should think about, the UN Women ‘Beat Me’ and ‘Change the Clap’ (by the Asia Pacific Transgender Network) to create support for the transgender community are examples of advertising that has kept pace with the demands of the time. It’s more than a question of being ‘politically correct’.


Have people who entered the advertising profession in the more carefree days adapted to changing times and challenges? I believe most have, as do those who enter the profession right after college. By its very nature, a career in advertising trains one for adaptability. People in creative are working on a new ice-cream flavour one day and then the next day, confront the challenge of a campaign to make polio drops acceptable to suspecting Pakistan


Have people who entered the advertising profession in the more carefree days adapted to changing times and challenges? I believe most have, as do those who enter the profession right after college. By its very nature, a career in advertising trains one for adaptability. People in creative are working on a new ice-cream flavour one day and then the next day, confront the challenge of a campaign to make polio drops acceptable to suspecting Pakistanis. These disparate demands require people who are extremely quick at learning. And the expertise to absorb and apply new learning is among the keys to being a successful advertising professional.

However, creativity cannot be taught. It’s something inherent, which exposure to new ideas and experiences can enhance to bring it in line with the requirements of the profession. Those with an open mind and the ability to soak in and benefit from new developments in the profession can expect to get ahead. And progress in the advertising business is now taking place at a mind-boggling pace. The challenge is to learn from the new while holding fast to the intrinsic worth of creativity.

Zohra Yusuf is Chief Creative Officer, Spectrum Y&R.