Clad in an impressive grey Marks & Spencer suit with a crisp white linen shirt and a diagonal striped tie, Don Draper sat alone at a café in Karachi. It was 11 am and he had just gotten out of a meeting with a prospective client. His table was scattered with newspapers, and a laptop with an unfinished presentation was open in front of him. Draper was immersed deep in thought, without the slightest regard for the cigarette which was burning out in the ashtray next to him while his coffee grew cold. “Roger, you idiot,” murmured Draper to himself, as he remembered following Roger Sterling’s advice about a year ago.
Moments earlier, Draper was leading a presentation at the head office of a renowned bank in the country in which his agency was pitching to acquire business. “Mr Draper, the concept you presented lacks the right emotional appeal. This concept does not move my heart.” was the response he received after he presented his concepts to the senior management. “But it is emotional!” He responded, “Emotions are a wide array of feelings; not every ad you see is supposed to be tear-jerking! You’re a bank, for crying out loud! You tried your strategy and it didn’t work; now that you invited my expertise, I’m giving you a good solution but you obviously do not understand!” He picked up his computer and walked out of the meeting, leaving his team scrambling to save the pitch.
His deep thinking was interrupted when he heard his phone ring. It was his CEO. He didn’t pick up; he would deal with the confrontation later. He received another phone call, this time from an unknown number. Upon picking up, he inquired and found out it was a film director whose work he was not very fond of. He was informed that one of his clients had picked this very film director to direct a TVC concept that Draper had conceptualised.
After leading the development of a number of campaigns – including the iconic ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke’ hilltop ad – during his time in McCann Erickson, Draper felt that he needed a change. Having conquered the North American market with his captivating work and also working with colleagues from across the globe, he had experienced world-class advertising standards but did not know what it is like to do advertising in a developing country. Keen on refreshing his creative flair, Draper resigned despite the protest of his seniors and on the advice of his close friend and colleague Sterling, booked a flight to Karachi the following week. Sterling had arranged for his appointment at a leading advertising agency in Karachi.
“Ah, Mr. Draper. I’ve been trying to reach you” said his CEO, a formidable old man of 72 with fading grey hair, when he arrived back at the office. “I heard you created quite a scene at the pitch; you should have gone with the concept I was telling you about – none of this would have happened if they had liked the concept. I don’t understand why you don’t listen to me.” Draper cleared his throat to respond, but resisting the urge to say something harsh, simply nodded his head and said, “We’ll do better next time.”
Draper’s frustration had been growing for months owing to the micromanagement he was subjected to on a daily basis. He had spoken to the higher management multiple times – and even received favourable responses – but almost always eventually found himself in the same situation.
When he finally returned to his workstation, he was greeted by an enthusiastic team whom he had been leading and mentoring. He wondered how many had come and gone within the past year, and reflected on how worrisome the employee turnover had become. He wasn’t very fond of his juniors, and often bullied them, but every once in a while, he would come across somebody he saw real creative potential and talent in. Almost every time he would focus on training such a new recruit, they would eventually leave for better opportunities. Puzzled at first, he realised that it was faster to climb the ladder this way – hopping from one agency to the next, to achieve a higher designation in a shorter amount of time. He was surprised to hear that a copywriter, who had worked at his agency four years ago, had become Creative Director at another agency already.
He turned his attention towards some of his leftover work. While he had come up with a wonderful concept for a food and beverage brand, he was trying to figure out how to fit a ‘wedding’ scenario in the ad film.
“According to our research and insights, the target audience feels that when they consume the product, it makes them happy. What do people do when they’re happy? They dance! We should have a dance as part of the concept,” his strategist – who was the office blue-eyed boy – had explained. He understood that data and insights enriched creativity, but didn’t imagine data being used this way. It then occurred to him how a large number of brands in the Pakistani market portrayed weddings and marriages as part of their video content. He was startled at the number of jingles and dances that dominated the Pakistani advertising landscape, where he pondered over how even biscuits and milk were advertised this way.
By the time he got done with his work, integrating the nitty-gritty’s of Pakistani culture in his concepts, it was 10 pm. Just as he was packing up and getting ready to leave, he received a phone call from the Account Manager who informed him of an impromptu meeting with a senior executive early next day, for which he was supposed to prepare a complete campaign plan with at least two creative assets. Needless to say, it was going to be a long night for Draper. He credited Sterling for coming up with the idea for him to leave the North American market and explore the advertising potential of the Pakistani market. While he made many friends and memories during his time here, he wondered where the industry was heading. However, he had also come across many brilliant minds whom he felt were going to shape the future of Pakistani advertising the right way. He crossed his fingers, rolled up his sleeves and got to work for the big meeting ahead of him.
Muhammad Ali Khan is Associate Director Creative & Strategy at Spectrum VMLY&R. He also teaches in the Masters of Advertising program at SZABIST-Karachi.