Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

A Good Time To Be Creative?

Zohra Yusuf discusses the trends that impacted creativity in advertising over the past 25 years.
Updated 16 Jan, 2024 02:31pm

For 25 years, Aurora has been recording developments in the advertising industry. The past issues of this publication should be studied by researchers looking for authoritative insights into the various facets of advertising – from creative trends to media evolution.

I must confess that this piece is more dependent on perceptions and memory, not on organised research. However, if I were to look at creativity in advertising over the past 25 years, the images that appear are diffused. If I were to look back a further 25 years (or 50 years), there are images, songs and words that come tumbling out.

In the earlier years, audio-visual advertising relied on the entertainment factor to a considerable extent. Jingles – and glamour – were the popular props. We still recall ads that achieved the status of becoming an integral part of our collective memory – from Lipton’s ‘Chai Chahiye’ to Dalda’s ’Jahan Mamta Wahan Dalda’ or Tullo’s ‘Amma, Tullo Mein Pakao.’ The longevity of these words was further confirmed when, recently, they made a comeback in the respective brands’ communication.

So why do the ad campaigns of the past 25 years seem not to be as evocative or memorable? There are two crucial factors responsible. Firstly, the fragmentation of the media. The mushroom growth of TV channels means that a commercial may not be seen as frequently by the same audience. Repeated exposure to a message is, of course, among the reasons for retention. Secondly, the FMCG market has expanded so swiftly that each category has several brands competing for share of voice, as well as share of mind. This is in sharp contrast to the almost monopolistic position of leading brands such as Lipton and Dalda in the past.

In the hope of opening a debate, here are some of the trends I have broadly identified as having made a mark in the last 25 years’ journey of creativity. I hope others will add on.

1. The language of advertising: From Urdu, we have seen the introduction of what is popularly known as Minglish, a combination of Urdu and English with the apparent objective of appealing to a younger audience. This has been taken a step further with the inclusion of colloquial, everyday speech. Pepsi, for example introduced the catchphrase, ‘Why Not, Meri Jaan?’ which has had a tremendous response. Linguistic puritans would decry even more the increased usage of what is dubbed as ‘Roman Urdu’, a form of writing Urdu text in English alphabets, not exactly recommended for comprehension.

2. The impact of the telcos: Perhaps no other category of products or services has had such a lasting impact on communication trends as mobile phone services. This is because no other product innovation has changed lives so dramatically. The telcos rightly identified the young as their prime market and introduced a narrative and style that not only resonated with them, but were later adopted by other categories targeting young people. The evolution of advertising language – from proper Urdu to the adoption of a more populist style is also strongly connected to the growth of the mobile phone industry. Telenor’s ‘TalkShawk’ and ’Khamoshi Ka Boycott’ still have high recall. Apart from language, music had a dominant role in connecting with the young. While Zong (in its relaunch) focused on youth and music, Shehzad Roy introduced an unknown Baloch singer, Wasu, in a memorable commercial for Ufone. Soon, the youthful style of communication and the colloquial use of Urdu began to be widely adopted by soft drinks as well. ‘Why Not, Meri Jaan?’ (Pepsi) and ‘Thand Rakh’ (Sprite) are becoming popular forms of expression.

3. The projection of women: There has certainly been a noticeable, positive development in this area. From the stereotypical roles of housewives or glamour girls, women’s projection in advertising now includes professional women, women on wheels and, generally, women with a mind of their own. Moreover, once taboo issues, such as breast cancer awareness, are now supported by major corporations through media campaigns. Even campaigns for sanitary napkins no longer shy away from tackling the discomfort, physical and emotional, that women face every month. Contraceptive products for women, however, continue to be taboo. Widely accepted beauty parameters were also challenged, forcing Unilever to change its popular brand Fair & Lovely to Glow & Lovely and from mostly matrimonial (rishta) situations, moved dramatically to depicting successful career women.

4. The decline in stereotyping: As with the positive change in the portrayal of women, some other stereotypes were also smashed. In an extraordinary breakthrough, men were brought into the kitchen by brands such as Shan masala and Lemon Max dishwashing bar and shown taking on the chores of cooking or dishwashing. The traditional antagonistic mother-in-law versus daughter-in-law confrontation was replaced by more amicable relationships in several campaigns – the latest being Bonus Tristar. Little girls are finally being shown as energetic and strong. Colgate’s campaigns in the past few years have shown girls standing up to bullying as well as demonstrating physical strength. Lifebuoy shampoo, too, has opted to show strong girls, linking the idea to strong hair. Even Blue Band margarine, after decades of highlighting the energy needs of boys, finally began to show physically active girls.

5. The rise of religiosity: When there was a single state-owned television channel, PTV, its code of ethics did not allow the exploitation of religion for commercial purposes – mosques, prayers and azaan could not be used in advertising. The proliferation of private channels in the last 25 years accompanied by a significant rise in religious programming (with some channels dedicated to religion) led to an upsurge in religiosity in society. Today, it is the norm to show religious symbols in commercials and practically mandatory for products and promotions in Ramzan.

6. Social media and the challenges to creativity: An unprecedented challenge to traditional media, social media posed its own challenges to creativity in communication. Unlike the “one size fits all” approach of the mainstream media, social media demands different strategies for different platforms. What wins ‘likes’ on Facebook is unlikely to strike a chord on TikTok. Communication on social media also has to contend with an extremely short shelf life, matched by short attention spans of the audience. However, the more powerful ones get a new lease of life when memes are created and shared, based on their messaging.

7. Rapidly evolving audiences: With the media boom in the audio-visual field, the audiences drawn to these channels became more diversified, more selective. Apart from the normal fare of news and entertainment, channels began to be dedicated to drama serials, sports, religion, cooking or 24/7 news broadcasts. Consequently, there was a fragmentation of audiences as people became hooked to the channel covering their interest. A further disintegration of audiences became evident with the entry of social media. It particularly captivated the young and suddenly watching TV became a habit of the past.

Of course, the most impactful development in the world of media, communication and entertainment is the rise of AI. It remains to be seen whether it will inspire creativity in advertising or stifle it by making agency professionals dependent on it. Young people have a lot to look forward to – and experience – in the coming 25 years.

Zohra Yusuf is Chief Creative Officer, Spectrum VMLY&R.