There was the overwhelming chance of an underwhelming experience. There was the last minute change of venue. There was a contraction in the size and scale of the event. Speakers were dropping out. Sponsors were not surfacing. The entry pass was the price of a return air ticket to most destinations. With the economy already reeling with inflation and savaging prospects for the immediate future, the word on the street was that AdAsia 2019, the prestigious Asian Advertising Congress set to be held in Lahore over three days for the second time in 30 years, might end up being a procedural gesture. An earnest, but potentially embarrassing contraption rife with a prosaic, uninspiring, and despairing surrender to the times that were upon us.
But, as far as advertising conferences go, Lahore did us proud. Very proud, in fact. The fog had lifted. The weather was perfect. And Alhamra’s red bricked façade beckoned the biggest and brightest of Pakistan’s advertising industry into its hall of fame which was set ablaze with beautifully appointed conference branding, together with platinum sponsor EBM’s newly launched corporate brand identity. What could initially have felt like a scaling-down, suddenly felt like an event that was right-sized into something more intimate, more significant and more conversational in nature – of which there were many, both on and off the stage.
The activity backstage, on the other hand, for those who managed to hop, skip and jump over the cable wiring, was a hotbed of live broadcasting; real-time blogging and interviewing, last minute decision-making and clockwork stage management, complete with a suite of private booths for international translators who – situated behind the green rooms, the design studios and the production labs – had the task of interpreting whatever was happening on stage LIVE, to an international community of men and women in arts, culture, advertising and marketing, who in turn had tuned in from as far afield as Japan and Australia.
True to this year’s emblematic logo with Celebrasian, semi-circled around the truck art inspired peacock’s tail, AdAsia Lahore pushed its cultural cachet by spreading the celebration right across town. International speakers will go back with memories of a conference where they had dinners in forts, lunches in gardens and breakfast in alleys that ran between the centuries of old Lahore – together with an opportunity to speak to an astute audience of seasoned professionals, eager start-ups, agencies, clients, and the unquestionable presence of a legend or two. Of course the likes of Richard Quest, Sir Martin Sorrell and Randi Zuckerberg added a rare combination of knowledge, provocation and entertainment that was designed to both consolidate and interrogate everything from great convictions to deep anguish.
AdAsia Lahore was both a homecoming of sorts and an important milestone in re-enlisting Pakistan’s advertising community on the world’s agenda. Visitors, both local and from as far afield as Europe, US, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and the extra-ebullient delegation from Indonesia (who hosted AdAsia Bali), were able to observe an industry on the cusp of a dynamic range of possibilities. Javed Jabbar, former Information Minister and Honorary Chairman of the Organising Committee of AdAsia Lahore, agrees: “Pakistan has brought together a remarkable set of perspectives on evolving issues and most of those issues are very common to all humanity, and particularly to Asia.” He added that the importance for AdAsia to have been hosted by Pakistan cannot be underestimated. After all, AdAsians, by their very nature, are makers of culture. Their influence in their respective countries is telegraphed through their work in terms of content creation, writing and making movies and “they would carry back the message of Pakistan being a very dynamic, hospitable and friendly country.”
In that vein, as we move into 2020, whether we have realised it or not, AdAsia Lahore has kick started the Brand Pakistan movement. What seemed like a pipe dream (“from terrorism to tourism”) is now slowly beginning to consolidate into an industry and category wide shift in perceptions and cultural breakthroughs, where each stakeholder is more determined than ever to reveal the secrets and the beauty of the land we call home.
Faraz Maqsood Hamidi is CE & CD, The D’Hamidi Partnership.