Published in Mar-Apr 2021
I really, REALLY wanted to visit Pakistan. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have put up with the pain of applying for a visa. Now you can do it online, but back in 2009 me and 500 others had to shuffle slowly around the garden of the Pakistan High Commission in London.
After an hour and a half, I learned I was in the wrong queue and had to go and shuffle slowly around the basement. I had to do quite a lot of waiting at Karachi Airport too. The immigration authorities waited until the last passenger off the last plane was cleared before I was summoned to a kiosk and my passport stamped.
Sorry. Sorry for Empire, sorry for Partition. My lot have much to answer for, I know. So, to be honest, I was apprehensive, a tubby little chap with a pink face looking for a cab in a country that has mixed feelings about our shared past. And, in a very personal sense, it is a shared past. My great, great grandfather built the railways that crisscross the Subcontinent. As did my great grandfather.
My grandfather was born in India. As was my father, who loved Pakistan. Or, at least, rural Pakistan. As Director of Education to the Commonwealth, his job was to invest British government funds in worthy education projects. As for my brother, he was a (quite famous) climber back in the seventies and a regular visitor to the Karakorams. He came back with wonderful stories of alarming adventures and kind people. I found kind people too.
This has not always been the case. In Argentina, my hosts took me out to dinner and shouted at me about the Falkland Islands. (Sorry again.) In Canada, my hosts had forgotten to book me into a hotel. In China, I was left to get myself from Shanghai to Beijing on public transport. (Thank you, thank you Google Translate.)
But in Karachi there was Qamar Abbas. On a scale of niceness from one to 10, Qamar gets 11. He gave up more time to look after me than I could reasonably expect. On my first evening in Karachi, he took me to dinner at a little restaurant with plastic chairs and wobbly tables, where the food wasn’t good. The food was fan-tastic. He took me shopping and made me buy a kurta and a kameez, both of which my wife still wears. And he took me for a drive down Sea View Road. Elephants on the beach. You don’t get that where I live.
My big disappointment was that Qamar doesn’t like cricket. Whaaaaat? I wanted to talk about the time I saw the great Waqar Younis clean bowl my friend Derek Pringle behind his legs in the fifth test at the Oval in 1992. Not to mention the World Cup when Imran Khan scored 72 in beating England. Still, there was plenty else to talk about.
The following day, I gave a presentation to a PAS conference and gave the audience the benefit of my wisdom. I had 102 slides and my computer froze on slide eight in protest. Undaunted, I improvised for the next 30 minutes. I suspect I was more than a little patronising. The great creative from London popping over to show how the professionals do it. In the conversations I had after the event, I was first startled and then humbled by the sophistication of the marketers I met. Just about everyone I met during my brief stay was cultured, informed and balanced in judgment. More so than any equivalent group back at home.
As for creativity, it was very much in evidence in Pakistan. But it was different from the homogenised sort of creativity you find at most international awards shows. It had its own loud and colourful style. And, digital media especially, was ahead of the game, especially with e-commerce. Since then, BBDO Pakistan has started to win awards at Cannes Lions, the most prestigious awards show of them all. Under the creative leadership of Ali Rez, the agency won two Golds at Cannes in 2015 with ‘Not a Bug Splat’, a shocking insight into the inhuman use of drones in the so-called ‘War on Terror.’ This was advertising that changed attitudes. “For Shame” was the headline of the influential journal The Atlantic. You can read that as sorry.
Then, in 2019, the BBDO team of Ali Rez, creative directors Hira Mohibullah, Assam Khalid, copywriter Huma Mobin and designer Ahmed Zafar won two Silvers and two Bronzes at Cannes with ‘Truck Art Childfinder’ for Berger Paints. In the last couple of years, brands have begun to embrace purpose. This has led to a lot of purposeless nonsense. Or worse. Pepsi trying to tell us that a can of sugary drink can quell a riot. Give me a break. Gillette lecturing men on how to behave. Cadbury in India producing a chocolate bar in four different colours for Independence Day. Gargggghhh.
Now, back to ‘Truck Art Childfinder’. This is a brand serving a purpose. Being practical. Being a good citizen, if you like. Being NICE. When I shout at marketing directors (which I enjoy since no one can fire me any longer) I use it to exemplify how brands should behave. Do, don’t say. Now other agencies are making waves. Ogilvy Pakistan won Gold at Spikes Asia at the beginning of March for Telenor. The moral of this story? I made a number of assumptions back in 2009. You must come across people like me annoyingly often. Sorry. But in visiting Pakistan I learned an important lesson. Don’t make assumptions. It’s a lesson that has stood me in good stead since then, I think. Thank you.
Patrick Collister is Editor, Directory magazine. He is former Executive Creative Director and ViceChairman, Ogilvy & Mather. firstname.lastname@example.org