Asrar Alam and Muhammad Ali Khan of Spectrum VMLY&R recount their AdAsia 2019 experience.
This blog is not for you if you are expecting to read about what we learnt about advertising and marketing at AdAsia 2019. Let's just say it was fun and rewarding, and since we came home with not just knowledge, it turned out to be quite an elaborate experience too.
A flight full of creatives
From the moment walked into the waiting lounge to catch our flight, it felt as if we were at a wedding. Familiar faces we had not seen in a long time were grouped in different spots; engaging in conversation and walking around, meeting friends and colleagues. Our flight was one of the many filled with advertising gurus. Never have we been on a flight carrying so many creative minds. After landing we soon headed for the opening night by Pepsi and came as a pleasant surprise. The kind of opening night where the paparazzi, red carpet, live music and food made it a truly international event.
First manifestation of Pakistani culture
The event was supposed to begin the next morning at the Alhamra Arts Council, and after an outstanding opening night, the bar on expectations was certainly raised. Thanks to Spectrum VMLY&R, we were a group of 10 curious people – probably the largest delegation from a single company (local and international). Curiosity soon turned to confusion when we entered the hall and we saw a man in a shalwar kameez sweeping the floor, while the technical team was conducting sound tests and adjusting the projectors and screens. That was when we realised we were bang on time!
We paused, looked at each other and headed out for a smoke without uttering a single word. Indeed, it was an international event, but it was happening in Pakistan, after all. However, as soon as the programme began, it build up pace. All that followed was proof of the brilliant job Shahzad Nawaz did in designing the aesthetics of the event – from the calligraphy to the colours and theme – everything looked amazing.
Be careful, it’s a Quest
Richard Quest was amazing and very sharp when he questioned Sir Martin Sorrell, who quoted a numeric figure in almost every sentence. Unlike local presenters, Quest had the guts to say uncomfortable things. It is certainly a walk on a tight rope engaging with him. For example, when a gentleman from the audience spoke after question time was up, he retorted with: “The voting is over. This is not Pakistan.” Ouch. In another instance, when someone commented that all media is fake, he replied that as part of the media industry, the person making this statement was the biggest hypocrite in the house.
The other Zuckerburg
Referring to herself as the ‘other Zuckerberg’, Randi Zuckerberg started her presentation highlighting the positive side of Pakistan. An interesting way to get the audience to warm up to her. She talked about prioritising life, family and passion. She also sang a beautiful song at the end of her talk, confessing to her passion of becoming a Broadway singer.
Soon after lunch on the third and final day, we were told we could take our mobile phones into the hall due to ‘security reasons’. ‘It was presidential protocol, they informed us. A stand was set up for delegates to submit their phones and notebook computers, as men in black suits spoke into their radio handsets with urgency. Nonetheless, after spending a good number of minutes in the queue, we were stopped again at the entrance of the hall and asked to surrender our cigarette packs after being frisked.
It is presidential protocol we were informed again, as we left our almost-full packs at the entrance, never getting them back. Meanwhile in the hall, Edward Pank, MD, WARK-APAC, was immersed in his presentation, explaining to the audience how big brands are embracing the challenger mindset. When everybody least expected it, he was abruptly interrupted and asked to leave the stage.
Presidential protocol we thought. A young lady in the audience did not hold back her comments about the unceremonious removal of Pank and the audience applauded. In his speech the President was critical of the ads produced these days. While his presence was greatly appreciated, we could not help but comment on the inconvenience so many people had to go through, given the fact that it was an equally painful process to get our phones back. We would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Pank on behalf of everybody who was enjoying his talk.
Who runs the world?
Girl power was no stranger to AdAsia 2019, and we got to climb high peaks with Samina Baig during her talk on the challenges that come with reaching the top of the world as a Pakistani woman. At a time when more women are following their dreams, it is very easy for people to turn a blind eye to the challenges they face in the process – and she highlighted them perfectly as she spoke of the difficulties she faced in pursing her passion. She was given a standing ovation.
This was followed by a power-packed panel discussion between EBM’s Zeelaf Munir, Catwalk’s Frieha Altaf and Bond Advertising’s Seema Jaffer, on gender equality at the workplace. The verdict was clear: Pakistan’s GDP cannot increase unless there are more women in the workforce. No nation is truly empowered unless women are given equal opportunities at the workplace.
We have to say this, because someone should
You would not usually read something like this in an article about an international ad conference, but we could not get over the fact that sanitation was not in the best condition. The men’s restrooms at Alhamra certainly made us reschedule our intentions after stepping in. No toilet paper, wet floors, no attendants. It is sad that no attention was paid to this aspect. Perhaps the organisers should have had sanitation sponsored by a brand like Harpic?
Aik Lohar ki
One thing is for sure, we are not going to miss a live performance by Arif Lohar in the future. At the Bulleh Shah Night, he played his chimta like a magic wand and the audience acted as his slaves, dancing to the beat.
A brilliant experience
Given the scale of the Congress there were definitely shortcomings and surprises but AdAsia 2019 was an overall successful and a very engaging event. It is pertinent to mention here the efforts of Sarmad Ali and his team, who worked hard to make this possible, along with all the creative and brand partners. And not forgetting Javed Jabbar, who mesmerised the audience every time he spoke.
Asrar Alam is Creative Director and Muhammad Ali Khan is Associate Director, Creative & Strategy at Spectrum VMLY&R.