Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Can We Ditch the Tylenol Please?

Pakistani banks would benefit from a good dose of storytelling, writes Sami Qahar.
Updated 02 Mar, 2023 08:24pm

As a rule, once I get the mandate from *Aurora* to write on a subject, I start a thought process and then research what I am thinking about. In this case, too, I started looking for Pakistani bank TVCs that told a compelling story. The more I looked, the more it hurt. In the end, I had to go on painkillers. So did Dan Wieden. 

For those who don’t know Wieden, he is the creator of one of the most iconic taglines in the world: ‘Just Do It’. Wieden once said, “people don’t buy products or services, they buy stories, relationships and magic.” 

Pakistani advertisers usually don’t like to listen to Wieden. By usually, I mean 90% of the time. Ironically, when I once said this during a presentation in front of a rather reasonable and educated brand team, even they debated the line. They said it was not true because people buy brand benefits, not stories. Yet, looking at the Nike commercials, I don’t see any brand benefits in them. They sell magic. They sell stories. And people buy it, making Nike the brand it is.

This article is not about Nike. It is about banking and storytelling in the banking sector. 

If we look at most of the TVCs put out by banks in the last few years in Pakistan, they all suffer from the same syndrome most Pakistani advertising does. Voiceover-based narrations over visual montages. In one TVC, Anwar Maqsood does this, in another, it is Mahira Khan doing the same thing. In the third, it is Shaheen Afridi and in the fourth, it is Bilal Abbas Khan. Oh sorry, how could I forget Shehryar Munawar and Hania Aamir singing rap and dancing to sell a credit card? Askari Bank too. JS Bank too. I need to go back to my pack of painkillers.

In the 2006 film, Stranger Than Fiction, Will Ferrell’s character hears a voiceover all the time as he goes about his typical day. His life is governed by that voiceover. Ordinary people like us do not have the luxury of having our lives described by a VO. Hence, we must rely on dialogue and communication. We must do the basic thing called ‘talking’. Yet, Pakistani advertising thinks the entire country is Ferrell’s character in that movie. It might still work if we had the capacity to write monologues, like Barclay’s TVC of 2000, featuring Sir Anthony Hopkins. Or heaven forbid, that we had an actor like Sir Anthony Hopkins, able to deliver a monologue to perfection. We possess neither. This is what makes the banking industry’s TVCs forgettable, run-of-the-mill and boring. The kind of stuff that makes boardroom presentation decks look safe and well… presentable.

It’s not that stories have never been told by Pakistani banks. One of my favourites was Al Habib’s 2004 campaign directed by Ayesha Jalil. Recently, HBL made a TVC targeting farmers and it was a reasonably good attempt by Adcom. However, these are rare commodities.

Let’s see what kind of products banks are offering and whether they can be associated with storytelling. 

Sir Anthony Hopkins’s Barclays commercial is a good example of corporate advertising. They singled out one RTB (reason to believe) and harped on it repeatedly to ensure audiences did not miss it. Is being ‘big’ a good enough reason for anyone to have a relationship with a bank? Surely, yes. Because being big means having the trust of a large customer base. It means the bank’s ability to provide liquidity at any time. It means that the bank’s infrastructure is strong and consequently the customer service is strong. Barclays could have gone on to talk about their branch network or their customer service or their infrastructure. But they opted for a compelling story which gave them the differentiation in their advertising that Pakistani banks lack.

Let’s talk about cards. Silk Bank’s credit card TVC gave me chills in my spine. However, we have examples of long-standing Mastercard campaigns that are priceless. They maintained their brand essence for decades, but their tone and messaging evolved. Even their VO-based campaign, showing a blind woman, had a reason and class to it. A plethora of Bank Alfalah credit card TVCs does not come close to it. HBL experimented with their Mr Bean campaign a few years ago – and the good thing about the campaign was the fact that HBL, despite being a financial institution, decided not to take itself too seriously. That in itself is a big achievement because most of our banks tend to take themselves more seriously than their customers do, and end up sounding pretentious in their communications. I have deliberately avoided the inevitable comparison with Indian ads, but it goes without saying that a Google search for TVCs by Indian banks, be they Axis or ICICI, may explain why Wieden was right. 

I have stopped expecting that the majority of Pakistani advertising will start to believe in storytelling. I have started sounding like a broken record. One can only hope that there will be a ray of light somewhere, when banks other than HBL and a handful of others will start selling relationships and magic to their customers, without taking themselves too seriously. Until then – Tylenol.

Sami Qahar is CEO, Stimulus Productions.