Asif Aziz, Chairman, PAS and Chief Commercial Officer, Jazz, speaks to Mariam Ali Baig about new directions for the Society.
MARIAM ALI BAIG: What have been the major achievements of PAS in these last 25 years? ASIF AZIZ: PAS has helped to build an advertising community. We created an identity for marketers and built a community based on sharing knowledge and ideas and imparting best practices. We have given marketers a purpose and a direction and helped evolve the profession. However, I don’t think we have done anything near enough to what needs to be done. For example, we still look across the border for inspiration from Indian campaigns; as a result, our ads tend to be song and dance routines. We need to motivate people to bring in a greater degree of creativity to their campaigns. We also have to understand the implications of the proliferation of the media. People build a TV campaign and then they figure out which snippet they can put on across digital platforms, which bit can be used as an image for a billboard and which one can be used for print. They call this advertising; I call it a road crash. Marketers need to understand their audiences and build messages that relate to them. My children have no interest in a billboard, but they have every interest in an Instagram page; therefore, in this case, the advertising should be geared towards that Instagram user as opposed to ‘digital’ users in general. We need to go where our consumers are going, not where they have been. We need to understand that every digital channel attracts different consumer types.
MAB: You mentioned Indian advertising; the reality is that many of our ads are blatant copies. Shouldn’t PAS be encouraging their members to create something they can own?
AA: We do. Firstly, through our seminars which are led by experts; secondly, the Effie Awards are a platform where marketers and advertisers come together and critique each other’s work, within the community – and this is really important. Thirdly, through our Executive Council, we talk to member companies about their challenges, where they feel their deficiencies are and how we can help. PAS acts as a coach to senior professionals. The Executive Council is composed of about 14 members from diverse industries and they all reach out to our members for discussions.
MAB: How does the Executive Council function and how does it interact with the larger membership?
AA: The Executive Council meets regularly every six weeks. Recently our agenda was about measuring digital audiences, specifically how to leverage our learnings about measuring TV audiences into measuring digital audiences. In terms of digital, we are reliant on Google and Facebook, but that is just one source of data. What about others? How can we measure and see where our consumers are going? We are thinking about forming a think tank aimed at providing learnings in terms of effectiveness and creativity and cascading that to the rest of our membership.
MAB: PAS members are mainly drawn from the big advertisers; what is being done to attract smaller advertisers? Are there barriers that may discourage them from joining?
AA: I honestly think that the real barrier is apathy because once people become members, they have no issues. I think it is also about the number of people we have available to go out and talk to potential members. This is one of our limiting factors; perhaps should recruit a person specifically for the membership drive.
MAB: Does the Executive Council address relationships with the advertising agencies? AA: We have not done anything proactively on that front, although specific discussions happen from time to time. The problem is the client-agency background, and we are on the client side. Furthermore, ad agencies have their own association. Having said this, before the pandemic, we used to have six-monthly and quarterly Executive Council meetings in different cities and afterwards we would invite agencies, media buyers and media owners to an informal high tea.
Going forward, something I want to do more of is connect with the start-up generation. However, the reality is that they are not the world’s biggest advertisers. We are thinking of setting up a link with the national incubation centres and offering them mentorship by plugging in our Executive Council members to help them build their business and marketing plans and teach them how to tailor their message to their audiences.
MAB: How challenging has the pandemic been for PAS members?
AA: Different sectors were impacted more than others and in terms of the FMCG sector – and similarly to telecoms and retail – consumer goods continued to be sold, albeit perhaps through different distribution methods.
MAB: Has there been a rebound in the economy since the lockdown?
AA: It is too early to call it a rebound. We are in a very precarious and fragile situation and I have to monitor the business on a weekly basis, as it changes every week. I cannot say with a great degree of confidence how things will be in April or May. I can tell roughly which direction things are going. So yes, things have rebounded but they are not where they used to be in 2019 and at the same time, they are not where they were in April or May last year. Pick your spectrum, every industry is different.
MAB: In some ways, the pandemic acted as a wakeup call for some advertisers, in the sense that they realised that the content and tone of their messaging had to change. Do you think this is a permanent change?
AA: This year, one of the most hotly contested categories in the Effies was doing good for society, for the community and Pakistan. All three are different categories and they have had the highest number of entries. I think during the crisis, a lot of people stood up and took ownership of purpose; what is your purpose as an organisation – and it cannot just be to satisfy profitably. My purpose every day is to connect and bring Pakistan into the digital world, not just bring more customers in. When Jazz pledged Rs 1.2 billion for Covid-19 relief, the next competitor pledged Rs 1.5 billion, the next one, Rs 1.6 billion and the next, two billion rupees. I don’t see this as a race; it’s good – we started something and that was what was important. It is more important to start something; it’s harder to do that.
MAB: Twenty-five years on and given the pace of change technology has wrought, don’t you think PAS should be embracing a new approach more in tune with these changes?
AA: I agree that we need to be more of a thought leader. I do think it is up to us to make our members realise that there is a world beyond the song and dance routine. Going forward, something I want to do more of is connect with the start-up generation. However, the reality is that they are not the world’s biggest advertisers. We are thinking of setting up a link with the national incubation centres and offering them mentorship by plugging in our Executive Council members to help them build their business and marketing plans and teach them how to tailor their message to their audiences. These guys do not necessarily know these things; they may be great at building an innovative product, they are not very good at marketing. I especially want to connect with the digital start-ups that will drive the digital ecosystem within Pakistan.
MAB: What inspires and frustrates you most about PAS?
AA: What inspires me is the diversity of our Executive Council members and the conversations this leads to. It’s good to hear all those views around a single table. What frustrates me is that there is not enough awareness and understanding of the fact that the world is evolving and we need to move fast to where our audiences are. The bulk of Pakistani society is under 25. Today, we have one hundred million data users in Pakistan and in five years, everybody will be a data user. Everybody has access to the internet now; they have a targeted device in their hands that is personalised to them. We have to realise that brands will no longer be built on TV in between cricket overs; they will be built somewhere else and I suspect we are missing out on a generation. We need to reconnect with that generation and go where they are and not where they have been.
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