Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Are Our Ads Really Made in Pakistan?

Published in Nov-Dec 2022

The ad industry’s mania for foreign-made ad film productions is selling Pakistani creativity short, argues Shoaib Qureshy.

According to several top Pakistani production houses, on average, 30% of all ads that we see running on TV are not made in Pakistan. They are predominantly made for Pakistan in Turkey, Dubai or Thailand. These ads are mostly made for multinational companies as well as many of the local companies that are the major advertisers in Pakistan.

Why? Because many clients and agencies believe that Pakistan does not have the directorial talent or technical facilities. This is something that I don’t buy. Everywhere in the world, when productions are shot outside the country of origin, it is for reasons based on the outdoor location (landmarks and landscapes). In Pakistan, officially the reason is that the requirement is a foreign director.

However, there is more to this than meets the eye. To understand this, we need to take a trip down memory lane. I remember when I started my professional career in the midnineties, there was an industry fascination with Indian advertising and some local clients and agencies worked with Indian concept writers, agencies, directors and production houses, even using Indian models and film stars. Some ad agencies specialised in doing this because they had no creative talent in-house and so they outsourced the entire client brief to Indian agencies or film producers while remaining the perfect middlemen in this endeavour, as that is what they knew best.

Furthermore, in those days, when it came to multinationals, only the advertising for the hair and skin care categories was not made in Pakistan, because the technical and post-production expertise abroad was leaps and bounds better. Malaysia, Singapore and then Thailand became the Pakistani ad industry’s favourite destinations. Later, even food films were made abroad as the production capability to shoot quality food shots was then not available in Pakistan.

So ‘Made in Pakistan’ ads back then were almost 90% NOT made in Pakistan. This was also a time that saw the emergence of Pakistani film directors such as Asim Raza, Saqib Malik, Asad-ul-Haq, Jami, Ahsan Rahim and Waqas. All were to make their mark on the ad industry by directing and producing great advertising films, setting new benchmarks in quality and execution. The production process was now led by genuinely creative people. These directors did take some ad productions out of Pakistan, but only if there was a real need for a foreign location or a really good director of photography.

However, their commercials were predominantly ‘Made in Pakistan’. But then, in this last decade, the needle has swung back towards not ‘Made in Pakistan’ advertising. There are several reasons for this, but none have anything to do with the officially stated reason that there is no good directorial talent in Pakistan. I know some clients who genuinely don’t believe in Pakistani talent – and if the belief is lacking, why would they have their production work done in Pakistan? A big change that drove this swing back was putting the “carriage in front of the horse” mindset. Earlier, ad agencies hired directors (horses) who then put their production teams (carriage) together.

However, with the emergence of several production houses, both clients and agencies started to work with them and left it to them to select the director. This led to the sidelining of mainstream directors, as the production houses started to promote upcoming directors as well as foreign productions for business reasons.

I know clients who are forced by their multinational counterparts to work with foreign directors – with the result that their advertising is made out of Pakistan. I know clients and agencies who only believe in execution but not in creativity. They think that a foreign film production glosses up (read: covers up) weak concepts and lacks creativity. They believe that foreign directors and production processes will guarantee success. I know clients and agency people who see foreign productions as an opportunity for foreign travel. I know production houses for whom foreign film productions are an opportunity to increase their billings; on average a foreign production costs 40% more compared to local production.

Yet, all these ads have been unnecessarily shot abroad, as one cannot easily identify the location. They look like any other locally made ad and there is no logical explanation for why they were shot abroad. Added to this, in some cases, a local director and the talent are taken on a foreign shoot where a studio is set that looks like a Pakistan home. Let me reiterate that I am not at all against foreign productions, and yes, at times they are genuinely needed, but not to the extent that one ends up making almost one in three films abroad.

I admire those companies that do most of their productions locally; they understand and value local directors and their talents and skills, and what is more, their ads stand out in terms of quality and give a beating to foreign-made ads on business results. Pakistan’s production scene has developed in the past decade. The film industry and the quality of work Pakistani directors are producing are getting better and better day by day.

Although the bigname Pakistani directors I mentioned earlier are still a force to be reckoned with, the second generation of directors, people like Soheb Akhtar, Hassan Dawar, Zaheeruddin Ahmed, Ayesha Jalil, Farooq Manan, Murtaza Chaudhry, Adnan Malik, Babar Sheikh, and Omair Nasir Ali, are making Pakistan proud by making great ad films and driving business results for many brands. In addition, there are many new young directors (if I start naming them the word count of this article will be crossed) who are showing great potential.

To conclude, it boils down to belief and honesty of purpose. The choices we make define who we are. Be Pakistani. Believe in Pakistani talent. Help Create a Sustainable Local Ad Film Industry Infrastructure. We are no lesser than anyone else and we have proven it in every field, even in film production. There is nothing more to prove!

Shoaib Qureshy is Founder & MD, Bullseye DDB Group.