After studying at Aligarh University School in the forties, I moved to Karachi in the fifties and enrolled in Urdu College in 1952. I graduated from there with a B. Com in accounts. I then joined the accounts department of Pakistan Petroleum Limited, but I didn’t find it too exciting, which is why I left the company in 1956 and joined Lever Brothers (now Unilever Pakistan) in February 1957.
Initially, I worked in sales and then moved to the marketing department as a trainee. In January 1962, I was transferred to Lintas (now the MullenLowe Group); I started as a radio manager and later on, I worked as an Urdu copywriter.
The sixties are widely regarded as the golden age of advertising in Pakistan and rightly so. It was a time of growth, with new products and agencies coming up and plenty of experimentation, expansion and innovation going on – not to mention plenty of hard work. The advertising industry was characterised by its copy, storyboards and lengthy meetings, where ideas were presented using paperboards. Copywriting was minimalistic, very crisp and, most importantly, original.
My typical day at Lintas began at 8:30 a.m. I would take a taxi to the office to ensure I arrived on time. In 1965, I was promoted to senior management and commuting to work was now done in an office car. Work mainly involved creating slogans and captions for ads in print and radio, as they were the primary mediums at the time. I began the day by proofreading copy, reviewing new projects and thinking about how to write good copy. I spent hours mulling over each word, jotting down ideas until I was completely satisfied with the end result. Only then would I submit my work to my managers.
During my workday, I made it a point to listen to the commercial service of Radio Pakistan, which was broadcast for an hour a day – from noon to 1 p.m. I would listen carefully to the words (copy) of the ads, taking note of the type of advertisements and who was behind them. I also wrote the script for two branded 15-minute weekly programmes on Radio Pakistan called Lux Kay Mehmaan, and Lipton Ki Mehfil. Additionally, I spent time poring over newspapers, studying ads and reading copy, and making a note about what our competitors were doing. At the time, one of the leading Urdu newspapers was Qaumi Akhbar.
Clients all demanded precision and originality. Consequently, creating copy was always a challenge. Sometimes, a client would approve the copy during the first pitch; on other occasions, they would ask me to rewrite the copy completely, which I willingly did. I never hesitated to explore new ideas or question my own skills and creativity. After all, the objective was to create copy that perfectly captured the brand’s essence and ensured customer recall. In those days, the internet did not exist, so like all copywriters I had to rely on books for my research. We were expected to be avid readers to ensure that our vocabulary was top-notch. My bedside table still has volumes of poems by Ghalib and Iqbal. My favourite Urdu Ghalib verse remains Khulta kisi pay kyon, meray dil ka mamla, sheroon key intekhab nay rusway kiya mujhay. (‘Why would my heart open up to anyone, the choice of poetry has disgraced me.’)
To this day, I remember some of the iconic slogans that put me into the limelight. One was for Lipton. It had a lasting impact on the brand and has been recast repeatedly – ‘Chai chahiye, konsi janab?’
I penned this jingle in 1965. It was quite challenging to come up with the right slogan as the brief was to focus on ‘good tea’ which means umda chai and the task was to create a 30-second commercial based on it.
This ad was conceptualised for radio as there was no TV then. I thought of a simple dialogue between a husband and wife. In this slice-of-life scenario, a man comes home from work, tired to the bone, and asks his wife for a cup of tea by tunefully saying, “Chai chahiye.”
His wife asks, “Konsi janab?”
Husband replies, “Lipton umda hai.”
His wife responds by giving him a cup of Lipton saying, “Lipton leejeeyay.”
Her husband says, “Lipton deejeeyay” followed by a chorus of husband and wife “Lipton peejeeyay.”
The tagline then breaks the monotony with: “Lipton ke maini hai umda chai.”
In the next slot, the wife says, “Chai leejeeyay.“
The husband asks, “Konsi janab?”
His wife retorts by saying confidently, “Lipton hee tou hai” and then the husband says, “Lipton deejeeyay.” The wife says, “Lipton leejeeyay” followed by a chorus and the husband and wife saying, “Lipton peejeeyay.”
The tagline ‘Lipton kay maini hain umda chai’ was used across print and outdoor and helped establish the brand. This jingle, which I wrote and composed became an overnight hit and has ever since stuck to the brand’s image. It has been used over and over again by Lipton with a few amendments.
During my time at Lintas, I had the opportunity to prove myself to other brands. I remember working with Hugh Andrews, a copywriter from Lintas UK. He came to Pakistan to train copywriters. He wrote the copy for Rexona Soap which went: ‘Many nice things happen to you when you look naturally lovely.’ It was sent to me for Urdu adaptation, and I was perplexed as it was a long line. After much thinking, I came up with the Urdu version, ‘Jab husnn nikharta hai, zindagi muskurati hai.’ (When your beauty is enhanced, life smiles). The client loved it and Andrews asked me: “What have you written in Urdu that everyone says that it is better than the English version?” Of course, I had no answer to that. There were slogans for other brands too, including one for Lifebuoy Soap, ‘Sehat kay liye Lifebuoy.’
My stint in advertising lasted for only four-and-a-half years and I left in 1966. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed those four years, working on different brands. But I wanted to make my career in marketing, so I left to join a subsidiary of Pakistan Tobacco Company as an assistant marketing manager and moved to Mardan. I was promoted to marketing manager in 1973. In 1976 I moved to Dubai and joined the Galadari Ice Cream Company.
Later, the company acquired Baskin Robbins and I was sent on a three-week training course to the US. Under my leadership, we launched several Baskin Robbins ice cream parlours in Dubai and across the Gulf region. It was not an easy task and in recognition of my hard work, I was awarded the Golden Scoop Award by Baskin Robbins in 1982.
I returned to Pakistan in 1987 and joined Polka Ice Cream as Managing Director and CEO and then moved to Berger Paints in 1993. After a year, I decided to set up my own marketing consultancy and which lasted until 2020. Once Covid hit, I decided to pack it in and retire.
At the age of 87, I cannot help but recall that golden era of advertising. Creativity had a different meaning. In the sixties, with hardly any foreign agencies in Pakistan, creativity and originality were at their peak and there was no concept of adaptations of foreign ideas. To me, advertising was the art of letting the consumer choose whatever he/she found most appealing.
These days my daily routine consists of rising early and after prayers, having breakfast, reading the newspaper, chatting with my wife, going for physiotherapy and relaxing. Sometimes when I have time, I read poetry. Since my three children live abroad, my days are filled with video chats with them. Needless to say, I am addicted to the Dawn crosswords, which I have been doing for years.
After all these years of association with advertising and marketing and my great love of the Urdu language, I feel sad when I see how much Urdu has deteriorated. I find the use of Roman appalling because it limits the message for people who do not know how to read English. This is not good for advertising and definitely not good for Urdu.
I miss the sixties. They truly were the golden age of advertising.
Shahid Salamat is a former radio manager, copywriter and marketer. As told to Uzma Khateeb-Nawaz.