Published in Mar-Apr 2023
In this issue we reprise a few of the salient themes contained in The Dawn of Advertising in Pakistan (1947-2017) – a Dawn Special Report published on March 31, 2018.
It was a landmark Report that won DawnMedia a PAS Award in “recognition of its contribution and support to the Marketing and Advertising Industry.”
Looked at from the vantage of 75 years, the story of Pakistani advertising is remarkable; in many ways unique.
Consider how it began. A group of men travel to Karachi from near and far… Bhopal, Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Lahore, Lucknow and other cities in British India. Some are Karachi born and bred. They are a motley lot. Poets, artists, entrepreneurs, art collectors, merchants, writers, civil servants, musicians, raconteurs, bankers and gentlemen farmers – one was even a prince.
Karachi in 1947 is an outpost, albeit an important one, far removed from British India’s centres of commerce in Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta. Yet, here they are in Karachi, drumming up business, finding staff, wooing customers and marketing products. Those who transferred to Karachi from their agency headquarters in British India at least have experience of the business and a client base to build on. The others have no option but to start from scratch, set up their own agency and hope for the best. Irrespective, they roll up their sleeves and start to lay the foundations of a profession.
And they get busy. They set up offices – cramped and sparsely furnished with oddly-assorted tables and chairs, a few pens and pencils here and there, a peon to make the tea. If their resources are limited, their enthusiasm is boundless. After all, they are going to be part of the great nation-building effort that is Pakistan.
These extraordinary men are the founding fathers of Pakistan’s advertising profession. They laid the foundations of a solid and passionate profession – and effortlessly passed on the mantle of their enthusiasm. For, not 20 years later – in 1964 – when television erupted on Pakistan’s advertising scene, a new generation was ready to rise to the occasion with an outburst of original creative executions that would forever mark this period as the golden age of Pakistani advertising. A period that brought Pakistani advertising as close as it ever was to creating its own identity and be recognisably Pakistani.
This brilliant chapter in the storybook of Pakistani advertising culminated with AdAsia 89 in Lahore in February 1989. Held under the chairmanship of Javed Jabbar, the industry came together to create a uniquely Pakistani spectacular that included a roster of stellar international speakers, making the event the talk of the delegates from the region. More importantly, AdAsia 89 put Pakistani advertising on the global map.
Until then, the story of Pakistani advertising was more or less linear. Come the nineties, there was a change in tempo. Globalisation took hold and Pakistani advertising shed its insularity. The paradigms that governed the rules of engagement between ad agencies and their clients changed. It was the moment when marketing became core to the success of a company and the CEO as a mandated brand builder emerged. The client now called the shots.
These changes in paradigms first came to Pakistan with the emergence of the affiliated agency and the entry of the media buying houses and the consequent detachment of the media function – a development that upended the traditional agency business model. Now, rather than appointing one agency to handle brand portfolios, they were split across agencies and had to be pitched for. In the midst of these shifts, came the internet and all the rules had to be rewritten. Time compressed, the media fragmented, brands proliferated, consumers demanded and lifestyles went into transformation.
Like their global counterparts, Pakistani ad agencies reinvented themselves many times. From full-service, to creative specialists, to hybrids; from independents to partial affiliates to full-equity buyouts and whatever else worked in between. Along with adapting to global influences, Pakistani advertising had to withstand the peculiarities of the country’s own trajectory – the cycles of instability and the systemic uncertainties that suppress the innate optimism to think and do big.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. Advancement in technology is the only continuum that is predictable. In 2023, Pakistani advertising, like the rest of the country, is being challenged. That the industry has managed to evolve, keep up with international practices and bring home international awards is a feat worthy of its founding fathers. The next chapter in the storybook of Pakistani advertising belongs to this generation’s men and women. It will be a hard slog.