Twenty-two long years ago, I went to the Bahria Auditorium Karachi to be part of Neelam Ghar (by then it had been renamed and was called The Tariq Aziz Show, or TAS) in homage to the legendary host’s services to the programme and to PTV. I sat among the audience far from the stage and saw Aziz’s arrival amidst thunderous applause from an audience who had grown up seeing him on TV. His appearance on stage was followed by a briefing about his hand gestures; one meant to clap, the other to stop clapping. I was in awe by the level of control he exercised on the audience throughout the show.
On the stage were a number of brands. At the time content integration was not as widespread as it is today (you surely did not see PTV newscasters drinking sweetened juices while reading the news). Nevertheless, brands came running to the TAS even in the days when it was called Neelam Ghar. The show had a specific target audience – the public at large; the same audiences who these days watch TikTok videos and Jeeto Pakistan or cry during the last episode of Mere Paas Tum Ho. The same can be said about the brands that today target this audience. In those days it was the Super Asia washing machine for those newlyweds or the Electra TV that was won upon answering a single question, every week these brands gave away their products and got the recall and awareness they wanted. Gypsy Amazing Cream was the pick of the audiences’ skin care routine and the Suzuki FX (later replaced by Suzuki Mehran) was the grand prize for the final quiz – which consisted of multiple rounds over several weeks and with the car remaining centre stage during all those weeks.
Were the brand messages subtle? Absolutely not. They were as in your face as you could imagine (like parking the car centre stage or the host declaring “Electra Apna Paigham Detay Hain”), yet there were no cringe moments about any of this.
In my view, there are two main reasons for this acceptance by consumers and advertisers. The first reason was the uniformity of the message. Every brand was introduced in the same way, as in: Brand X Apna Paigham Detay Hain - and when every brand gets the same kind of exposure, it takes away the awkwardness and creates a familiar territory for both consumers and advertisers. No consumer will comment about how one message was over the top and no advertisers complain about one brand getting more mileage than the other. The only thing that differentiated one brand from another was of the toughness of the questions that needed to be answered correctly in order to win. One question was worth a TV and another an 800CC car and which was won after several rounds and weeks of hard work. The second reason was the consistency of the formula and the messaging. Week after week, month after month, year after year, the same brands communicated the same message on the same platform to the same audience. Brands like Tibet Snow, Millat Fan and Suzuki, stayed true to their consumers for years. There may not be concrete research to back my claim, but I wouldn’t be surprised if TAS played a big role in making the Suzuki Mehran a household name in Pakistani among entry level car buyers.
These brands also gained one more unparalleled benefit - a universal brand ambassador -Aziz was the face of all these brands at the same time. Think Electra and the face that comes to mind is Aziz. Think Super Asia and it is the same face that comes to mind. Aziz was not associated with any brand, yet all those brands were associated with him. A man with a squeaky-clean image, impeccable manners and sheer class – exactly what you want in a brand ambassador (unlike the risks you take with today’s influencers and celebrities).
Despite the similarity in the audiences then and now, there still was a lot more brands could get from TAS that they cannot get from today’s game shows. I do not want to undermine these current shows, nor do I question their popularity, but there are a lot of misses when it comes to brand placement. First and foremost is the number of shows. TAS was the only such show and remained so for decades. Now there is a game show on every channel and the hosts are giving away gold and bikes for just eating mangoes or doing push-ups. This is what happens when ratings and masala takes over the integrity of the content. The brands too are also responsible for not getting the recall they want from these shows. To start off, they do not maintain a consistent message and re-launches come more frequent than the birthdays of the brand managers. Furthermore, the message on one medium is different from the one on another (in the name of media customisation). The shows are cluttered and short of space, yet more and more brands are added in the mix.
Aziz is gone and may his soul rest in peace. We have not only lost a great host and poet, we have also lost the true ambassador of Pakistan’s most popular brands; a perfect gentleman who wore a chunnat wali qameez with aplomb and spoke with the clearest of voices. The world moved on to new hosts and new game show formats, audiences were forced to dumb down in terms of what the shows offered and brands happily followed suit. In this strange new order of things there would not have been space for a Tariq Aziz. Which does not diminish the fact that he was the original TV personality and host who did all that stuff with a lot more class than anyone ever could and before anyone else did.
Sami Qahar is Marketing Director, Haleeb Foods.