My phone screen lights up with yet another notification. Ugh. Another COVID-19 update, another reminder to pay the bills or another telemarketing message. As I unlock the screen, I see an ad for a cooking-themed game with the subject "Kitchen expert Ghazal, Unki Beti Kanwal ;)” (Kitchen expert Ghazal, her daughter Kanwal).
Wait a second... this is a very familiar phrase from a Servis Shoes ad from eight years ago. It is a work of genius as the jingle takes common Pakistani household names and creates rhymes out of them, showing various characters and personalities (Adnan, Usman, Aunty Parveen, Jabeen among others) wearing Servis shoes.
The ad is fast-paced, colourful and well-shot. The pacing jibes well with the beat of the song and while the nasal vocals are too ‘inspired” for my taste, the wordplay remains clever and fresh to this day.
Now, this 2012 ad seems to have found new life. Suddenly, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok are brimming with memes based on it as people create their own videos using the its jingle. Interestingly, it seems tailor made for memes, as the diverse characters, situations and the catchy rhythm all lend themselves to being the perfect meme.
In fact, the ad came back with such a bang that Servis have initiated a social media competition called the #ServisShoesChallenge, whereby fans can create and share their Servis ad memes for a chance to win a prize.
I believe this ad has captured the zeitgeist for the simple reason that it reminds us of things we previously took for granted and which have suddenly been taken away. Weddings, beauty salon visits, socialising with loved ones, car rides, going to work etc.; the world is different now and the ad is nothing less than a distant fantasy. Another reason is that reality has proved far stranger than fiction (and this ad). Our political and socioeconomic situation has been less than ideal for as long as I remember - but in the past couple of years it took a turn for the cosmically absurd. Just as nothing that Donald Trump says or does seems shocking or taboo any more, nothing that happens in our society now seems particularly odd or unsettling, no matter how disturbing.
So it is not surprising that the blogosphere has latched onto this rich goldmine of an ad and taking advantage of widely available and easy to use video editing tools. The memes feature everyone from politicians to players (Akmal, get it?), to actors, to viral YouTubers, to other memes. It is literally a blank canvas that is being remoulded every second into a microcosm of our society’s social, political, cultural and economic scenario.
Does this have a big lesson? Not really, except that due to the internet, no content is now ever lost. Everything from every era is out there, open to everyone. The ad is a fundamentally good piece of work and has therefore gained a new lease of life. Of course, it is extremely lucky for Servis, which is garnering vital visibility in this depressed age.
Other stuff survives for the wrong reasons. The Laziza Kheer Mix ad for instance, where a new bride wins the approval of her snooty father-in-law by making his favourite kheer and whose whole future is hinging on that one display of cooking abilities while her husband claps on. The ad is wrong on so many levels - the desperate imitation of aesthetics of Indian soaps, the caricature characters, the misogyny, the sexism, the psychological torture of the girl systematically administered by everyone from kids to adults. And yet, it refuses to die.
There is no formula to this. Every piece of art or commerce is well and truly in the public domain. I believe that if the Servis ad and its memes are bringing some joy to us, this is the best tribute possible to its makers!
Talha bin Hamid is an accountant by day and an opinionated observer of pop culture, an avid reader, a gamer and an all-around nerd by night. firstname.lastname@example.org.