Published in Nov-Dec 2019
They’re ready it seems! With the call for registration of delegates announced recently – three months before the event – AdAsia 2019, it seems, is finally set to roll. This is also evident from AdAsia’s website and Facebook page which have the programme and list of speakers. As in 1989, there has been a lot of scepticism on the ability of the organisers to pull it off successfully.
Thirty years on, Lahore will once again be the host city for an Asian advertising congress. Pakistan’s first victory in the selection as the venue was clinched at AdAsia in Seoul in 1984, and the successful show put up in 1989 (a year later than scheduled) surprised everyone, including the organisers. The 31st AdAsia, however, is unlikely to be judged by the standards set by its predecessor event, as many of those attending it are too young to have any memories of the spectacular AdAsia of 1989.
Today, the challenges are starkly different. In 1989, the organisers were struggling with the basics – lack of infrastructure support, conference facilities, accommodation, etc. Technology, even for projection of slides, was patchy. Yet, some of the most renowned and respected names of the time came to Lahore and went back clearly impressed. The challenges today are, perhaps, not so daunting. Technology is a given and infrastructure issues have apparently been sorted out. There is considerable official and sponsor support. The apprehensions regarding Pakistan as a destination are fading with the result that many well-known names have agreed to speak in Lahore.
I believe the biggest challenge today relates to imagination and new ideas. Going through the programme details, AdAsia 2019 gives the impression of being a combination of an advertising conference (which it is meant to be) and a literature festival of the sort that takes place periodically in parts of Pakistan. For example, there is a session in which Hameed Haroon talks to Rashid Rana, Salima Hashmi and Adeela Suleman about art, and on Day 2, two hours have been dedicated to the mountains of Pakistan. While these will certainly help in projecting a more rich and diverse image of Pakistan, an advertising congress is not the most appropriate setting for such initiatives which dilute the professionalism of the event.
I believe that a more imaginative approach to portraying Pakistan while remaining within the expectations of an advertising congress and its sub-theme – Celebrating Advertising & Creativity in Asia – could have been explored. There are many exciting aspects to communication in Asia and this country – some new, some old – that cry out for attention. If I had been drawing up the programme, I would have recommended the inclusion of the following:
Perhaps the first positive development that AdAsia 2019 has brought about is the revival of the Pakistan Advertising Association (PAA). Practically dormant for decades, PAA seems to have woken from a Rip Van Winkle slumber to share the responsibility of organising an AdAsia after 30 years.
A session on cinema
The AdAsia venue, Lahore, itself provides rich material for focusing on the history of Pakistani cinema and linking the past with the current successes of young filmmakers. There has been a renaissance of sorts in Pakistan’s film industry leading to many box office hits, and this could have been explored parallel to developments in the Asia Pacific region.
The soul of music
Music is another form of communication where young Pakistanis have made an immense impression with their creativity and experiments in fusion. While Coke Studio took the lead and demonstrated the potential of fusing the traditional with the modern, the old with the young, other experimental formats such as Patari have achieved big success using primarily online media. This kind of a focus would have brought the ‘softer’ side of Pakistan to international audiences while ensuring relevance.
Humour in social media
Social media in Pakistan has grown rapidly and what has characterised it is the unleashing of humour online. It’s not just the local TikTok videos that soon go viral but the wit and satire exemplified in tweets and posts related to current developments. Even the Indians conceded recently, that while losing to India in the World Cup Cricket final Pakistan won with its humorous and creative tweets! Many centred around captain Sarfaraz Ahmed’s massive yawn behind the stumps. A discussion on this aspect would have given a unique dimension to the use of media in Pakistan.
The above are just personal thoughts about how the Congress content could have been more engaging while remaining in the realm of creativity in communication. The above three proposed themes are anchored in the talent of young people in Pakistan. It is a pity that while we never tire of reminding ourselves that ours is a country where the overwhelming majority are the young, they still do not receive adequate representation in such important regional and global events. Moreover, trends in the advertising and communication industry are increasingly determined by the young who are not bound by conventions. Considering the groundbreaking work one sees nowadays, the input from the young in the profession may have added greater value.
Some reservations apart, it is exciting to see AdAsia on track. Perhaps the first positive development that AdAsia 2019 has brought about is the revival of the Pakistan Advertising Association (PAA). Practically dormant for decades, PAA seems to have woken from a Rip Van Winkle slumber to share the responsibility of organising an AdAsia after 30 years. There is a sense of déjà vu in going through the details of AdAsia 2019 on its website. First of all, the venue is Lahore yet again; secondly, many of the members of the organising committee are those who were there in 1989 as well. The torch has not fully been passed on to a new generation of advertising practitioners – although there are a few younger and newer names.
Anyway, the line-up of speakers is impressive and all have a lot of knowledge to pass on. One hopes that the participants will consist of primarily young professionals, eager to learn and experience the extravaganza of AdAsia 2019.
Zohra Yusuf is Chief Creative Officer, Spectrum VMLY&R.