Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Mar-Apr 2021

Giving Advertisers Their Own Voice

Tariq Ikram (SI) recalls the early days of PAS’s formation.

Time flies! 1996 seems like only yesterday. It gives me enormous satisfaction to see PAS celebrate 25 years. It is not often that one can see the maturity of a new initiative in one’s own lifetime. I feel humbled and lucky to see this day.

I was then the Chief Executive and Regional Head of Reckitt & Colman (Reckitt Benckiser). At 51, my passion to contribute to the development of the marketing profession in Pakistan was growing, having gained so much from it personally and professionally in the previous 26 years. An opportunity that fanned this passion emerged in the early nineties.

Marketing and media have made major strides since the birth of Pakistan. Starting in the late forties, with personal product promotions shop to shop, some press ads, a bit of radio (mainly announcements; jingles and song and dance came later) the advertising spend was perhaps less than one billion dollars nationally. In the mid-sixties, the introduction of cinema advertising, and more so TV, signalled a major change in creativity, copywriting, graphics, production and media management. In the late nineties, a technological revolution started in animation and other production techniques and equipment; product endorsements by celebrities began. Social norms and values dominated the degree of liberalisation and gradually the female appearance began. There were only a few ad agencies and media was usually chosen from among leading dailies, TV, cinema and radio. In the mid-fifties, the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) came into being as did the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation. The Pakistan Advertising Association (PAA) was formed in 1973 and became the voice of the ad agencies.

By the mid-nineties, the national advertising spend had reached Rs 25 billion, of which TV accounted for 65% and about a third went to print, followed by the other media. Media was booming and new TV channels emerged and cinema was regaining popularity; FM radio was proliferating. Media planning was still in its infancy. The challenge was whether the huge ad spend of between five to 20% of sales was achieving the desired ‘bang for the buck’. Every time my industry colleagues met, we would discuss this. Other challenges were raising advertising standards and giving advertisers a voice. The interests of APNS and PAA overlapped but they were also different, even conflicting. For example, the print media may not like the accuracy of readership data, or PTV may want to remain ignorant of its competition.

A few of us decided to do something about this and PAS was formed in 1996. The initial years of any organisation, especially one that is unprecedented, are the most challenging in terms of achieving effectiveness and sustainability. I must recognise the commitment and drive of Nadeem Hussain and Anwar Chaudry (Citibank), Sohail Ansar (Unilever), Philippe Bovay and Faisal Sabzwari (P&G), Khawar Butt and Azhar Javed (EBM), Tony Devine (Shell), Nizam Khan and Ali Ahmad Khan (PepsiCo International), and Salman Shareef (Ciba-Geigy). I was elected as the Founding Chair and Zubair Ali was the Executive Director. By 1998, we had over 20 members who together accounted for 80% of the national advertising spend.

We recognised from the beginning that we had to give a solid foundation to PAS; a legal structure, a strong paid secretariat and a reliable source of finance. Strategically we also agreed to ‘bite only as much as we could chew’. This was done and the membership drive brought in the funds.

Vision and Mission: To establish a clear way forward we developed the vision and mission of the Society: “PAS is the true representative of the aspirations and interests of the advertisers in our country. The society is dedicated to help improve the standards of the advertising environment and the professional and ethical practices in the advertising industry. The Society aspires that advertising is efficient and effective for the advertiser, accruing fair rewards for media, agencies and allied suppliers, providing true honest and equitable information to the consumer.”

Understanding Media Profile and Reach: The challenge was to gain a better understanding of the profile and penetration of media. A survey was undertaken by Aftab Associates and The Establishment Survey (as the report was called) was published in November 1998. This provided a sound basis for the audience measurement initiatives we were planning. The survey would cost five million rupees, but we were only able to source 3.7 million rupees. I cannot remember if we ever paid Aftab or if he agreed to manage the rest. Thanks Aftab! Sarmad Ali contributed Rs 700,000 on behalf of The News.

Best Advertising Practices and Code of Conduct: The fundamental requirement in setting higher standards in advertising is to ensure that what is claimed is delivered. We set up a committee to draw up the PAS Code of Advertising Practices, in consultation with all stakeholders. The committee, led by Tony Devine, included Khalid Rauf (Lintas), Nabeel Malik (ABN AMRO), examined the codes applicable to other major markets and synthesised them into a code applicable to Pakistan. Shell bore the cost of printing the Code, which was launched in 1998 and paid for by Unilever.

Clearing the Clutter: This was a big hole through which money was and is being wasted – too many ads running in too short a period. For example, in 1997 The X-Files, aired on Star Plus, ran a maximum of seven ads per programme with only three spots telecast per ad break; in contrast, during PTV’s Ranjish and NTM’s Ilzam, 49 and 60 ads were respectively aired per programme. A PAS committee worked with the media to find a commercially sensible solution, but I must confess I wish we could have achieved greater success, in spite of the efforts made by Sohail Ansar, Noman Siddiqui and Jamil Ahmed. The enormous difficulty is reflected in the fact that the problem exists even today.

Plagiarism: I must acknowledge the bold efforts made by the Plagiarism Committee consisting of Tony Devine (Chair), Zafar Siddiqui, Nabil Mallek and Zubair Ali. The first attack came from the giants – P&G against Unilever – and was the ultimate test for our committee. In concluding the matter, Ian Sangster (then Chairman of Unilever), wrote: “Whilst we maintain our stand that we did not copy, we have decided to change that shot. And this decision has been partly influenced by PAS’s request.” This was a major achievement. As they say about the UN, when the battle is between two major countries, the UN disappears. PAS, however, did not disappear.

Professional Development: With the launch of new satellite channels and the growth and complexity within other media, it no longer sufficed to spend a large sum on traditional media and the target audience now had to be more sharply defined. This required a change of paradigms and skills. PAS pursued training sessions and seminars for the industry. This committee was led by Zafar Siddiqui.

A National Role with the Government: An improved business performance ultimately leads to a better socio-economic development of a nation. It was essential that PAS played an active role in convincing the government to recognise its ability to contribute. PAS interacted with the government at various levels and Mian Khursheed Mahmood Kasuri (then Chairman, National Committee on Information & Media Development), invited PAS to advise on improvements in PTV. An effective role was played in censorship issues. The government banned the use of Indian models or music or production in local ads, but PAS took up the issue and convinced them otherwise.

Interaction with Professional Bodies: Learning through interaction is vital and PAS conducted seminars and workshops and interacted internationally. David Vernon of BESO was invited from the UK to advise on PAS initiatives and an 82-page report was published on the subject: PAS a member of the World Federation of Advertisers.

In January 2000, having been appointed Minister of State by the Musharraf government I had to part with PAS.

Today, in addition to serving the cause of the industry, I would suggest that PAS take an aggressive stand in furthering national socio-economic development. PAS can build on the progress made in the past with the government and advise the government on issues like farm-to-market marketing, price management, consumer protection, achieving a quantum leap in exports and import substitution, branding Pakistan better... l could go on. Pakistan needs the top brains PAS has.

I would love to see clutter reduced. It is wasting advertisers millions if not billions of rupees.

The race of change has increased manifold, and this is only the beginning. We need training and development to cope with emerging trends and I do not see the desirable level of focus in this area in Pakistan; we need to get IBA, LUMS and international universities involved.

A word of advice to the new generation of advertisers. Marketers, the rate of change is unbelievable. Watch out every day, measure and update yourselves. If you did your MBA today, within three years you may be highly uneducated. I quote Jeff Welch: “When the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”

Tariq Ikram (SI) is Founder Chairman, PAS. He was CEO/Regional Head, Reckitt Benckiser, President, OICC & I, Marketing Association and Management Association, Founder Chair, Pakistan Research Society, and Minister of State/CEO TDAP. He presently sits on various boards as an independent director and is faculty for Corporate Governance, Strategy, Leadership Change Management, PICG and NIM.