Published in Mar-Apr 2021
It’s 2046. Pakistan is 99 years old and PAS has just turned 50. The Executive Council members have decided to culminate the celebrations at the 28th Effie Awards ceremony with a speech by the chairperson, outlining the society’s numerous achievements and milestones.
At the designated time, the speech begins with “Once upon a time, six visionaries came together and laid the foundations of PAS in humble beginnings from the office of one of its member companies and the rest, as they say, is history…” End of flash forward.
As with most such endeavours, PAS too started with a bang and reeled off significant milestones, such as standardising SEC definitions, establishing an advertising Code of Ethics and kick-starting the People Meters project in a relatively short space of time. This was followed by an unexplained six-year hiatus where everyone seemed to have lost interest or was unable to look beyond their own interests.
It is pertinent to pause here and take stock of why PAS came into being and what it was intended for.
Taking inspiration from similar bodies, such as the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), ISBA (which represents the UK Association of Advertisers) and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) from the US, it is safe to say that the ambitions were lofty.
A cursory look at the purpose statements of these associations gives us a peek into what PAS was aiming for: WFA: “Champions effective and sustainable marketing communications.”
ISBA: “Enables advertisers to understand their industry and shape its future.” ANA:
“Drives growth for marketing professionals, for brands and businesses, for the industry and humanity.” So how has PAS fared thus far and what more does it need to do to make the chairperson’s speech interesting in another 25 years’ time?
We can start with PAS’s purpose statement: “PAS represents common interests of advertisers of Pakistan, bringing together marketing, advertising and media professionals to enhance the quality of thought and industry practices by advocacy, championing responsible communication, cutting edge research, acknowledging good marketing and advertising practices. PAS also provides training and enrichment programs across these platforms.”
A lot of similarities with the above-mentioned associations and perhaps among the work PAS has been able to do very effectively is to link Pakistan’s advertisers to the global network of advertisers.
This in itself is a huge achievement, given the kind of internal obstacles such organisations have to overcome to remain stable, credible and representative. We only have to look at the debacle of the Pakistan Football Federation and its relationship with FIFA as an example to understand the challenges we face in a country like ours for this seemingly simple task.
In its first 25 years, PAS has increased its membership to the point where they represent at least 85% of the total advertising spend in Pakistan. They have become a knowledge hub by way of conducting numerous trainings and webinars by international experts and hosting a repository of articles and thought pieces on their website.
Apart from standardising SEC definitions and replicating the TGI profiling survey with their own Consumer Multimedia Index (CMI), PAS is currently trying to put in place a mechanism for digital audience measurement as well as finding an acceptable industry-wide solution for a retail audit. However, the most visible feather in PAS’s cap was launching and sustaining the advertising industry’s only awards show. This gained in stature when it merged with the Effie Awards and became part of the Global Effie Index.
There have been a few notable misses as well.
On the measurement front, TAM (Television Audience Measurement) remains bogged down. There is no crossover work done with complementary bodies, such as the PAA (Pakistan Advertising Association) which represents the creative agencies or the PBA (Pakistan Broadcasters Association) which represents the TV channels. The potential for collaboration on topics such as ethical content/ advertising, setting standards for the pitching process and intellectual property on rejected ideas is huge.
So, it would be apt to say that it has been a journey with a fair share of ups and downs – and looking forward is where it becomes even trickier.
With a stable leadership in place for the best part of a decade now and more progressive/primed to cooperate with Executive Council members, PAS is well poised to tackle more sensitive topics in the future.
Looking again outwards for inspiration and adapting locally, ANA’s 12-point focus on how to lead growth in the advertising industry can be a leading light for PAS. These are divided into four parts. Brand experience, creativity and media; data, technology and measurement; talent and marketing organisation and society and sustainability.
In each area, the focus is on thought leadership and challenging the status quo.
PAS can and should do the same. What will the future of advertising and marketing look like in Pakistan and globally?
How can we foster brand innovation, the consumer experience journey and creativity? How will the media and its supply chain work in the future? Discussions around these topics are essential to showcase local talent and tap into the wealth of knowledge we have in Pakistan in the form of experienced marketers and creatives, especially those with international experience.
How and when can we improve the measurement metrics across different media to make spends more transparent? How do we deal with consumer data and privacy issues? What about the role of AI and machine learning and big data analytics?
Can PAS play a role in guiding universities to incorporate the above in their course outlines, to develop a talent pool for the future?
Perhaps the biggest unexplored area is the relationship between the advertiser and the creative agency. After all, it is in the collective interests of all advertisers to ensure that the creative agencies are up to mark in terms of talent, resources and organisation, and to ensure trust and transparency between the two on myriad issues.
There is a growing discussion globally on the positive role brands can play in shaping society’s thinking and behaviour.
Shoring up codes is just one end of the spectrum and yes, the obvious pain points, like misleading advertising, influencing the young and unethical comparatives, need stamping out. But what about challenging the advertisers to go a step further and actually shape opinion for the greater good?
Qamar Abbas, the current Executive Director of PAS, gave the organisation a 7/10 for the Society’s performance thus far; in his own words, “PAS still has a lot more to do.” The biggest stumbling block is still the shortsightedness of many. As long as we keep prioritising self-interest over collective interest, we will remain bogged down. It took six visionaries to plant the seed so I am sure we can find at least that many more to nurture PAS further and see it grow.
Back to 2046…
“And in closing, I would just like to salute the industry for coming together and putting Pakistan at the forefront of global advertising industry practices. Thank you.” Applause.
Sheikh Adil Hussain is GM Marketing, Shan Foods. He is also a PAS Executive Council Member. firstname.lastname@example.org