Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Finding Freedom in Failure

Tyrone Tellis calls for a new chapter in Pakistani advertising that values consistency, challenges the status quo and tolerates failure.
Published 16 Jan, 2024 04:51pm

In the days when I was working at Axact, we used to have monthly meetings with the CEO. The entire company (well, most of it) would head for the basement where suggestions from employees would be read out. Once, someone complained about his fellow employees not wearing seatbelts in the vans and suggested that the company start a campaign to educate employees about the importance of wearing seatbelts. After listening to the suggestion, the CEO, Shoaib Sheikh, remained silent for a while before pointing out that it would be more effective if the van driver simply told employees to buckle up. We had a good laugh, it reminded me about how we often seek the grandiose solution rather than opt for the simpler one.

We have seen, time and again, both as a nation and as an industry how people cling to the illusion of competence and intelligence. Speaking about our marketing industry, it’s momentous to think that Aurora has been around for 25 years; it seems longer. I have always been a voracious reader and as a student in university, I started reading Aurora. Later I was emboldened to write to the editor expressing my views and in 2007 I took the plunge and sent in my first article, not without some trepidation. The last 25 years have seen a great deal of alteration and change and Aurora has stood out as a model of consistency and quality – something that our marketing industry has sorely lacked. Everyone has been hell-bent on a crazy rush to be creative, disruptive and innovative – churning out mediocrity. Like my over-eager colleague mentioned at the start of this article, marketers in Pakistan more often than not fall prey to fallacies and flawed thinking.

First off, there is the fixation on advertising and not on marketing in its entirety. Advertising is undoubtedly important, but it is not the only component in brand building and communication. The analogy can be made that if you have a hammer in your hand, all your problems start to look like nails.

Advertising is seen as the solution to whatever marketing challenges exist, whereas it is only one tool in the marketing team’s arsenal. Changing beliefs, behaviours and purchasing patterns can be brought about by a change in the retailer or in the packaging, or through a combination of advertising, sales and activation.

Pakistani ads are high on production value but weak in concept. In the past, I have compared our ads to the Hindi film, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, which despite its weak plot pulls in the audiences thanks to the production values and the music. If ever there was a situation where the phrase ‘It looks good on paper,’ was applicable, it would be to the majority of our advertising output.

Another aspect contributing to the low quality of our advertising is the fact that our ads focus almost exclusively on the middle classes – the safe option. We admire Indian ads and even use them as references to create our own campaigns. What we do not realise is that Indian ads are more real and tend to show all classes. The Airtel launch ads were a perfect example of this.

The closest thing we have to this in our market are the detergent ads that target rural consumers or the ones for agricultural fertilisers. Pakistani ads are aspirational and try to overcome a general yearning for a better and more secure life.

The problem is consistency. Recently Mark Ritson, the brand consultant and professor of marketing, wrote an article about how research shows that consumers actually do not tire of ads as quickly as brand or agency teams would believe. He writes: “Analytic Partners looked across more than 50,000 ads in 2020 and found that only 14 of these campaigns had run their full course and were exhibiting wear-out when they were replaced. The other 51,232 were pulled despite the fact they were demonstrating no signs of wear-out at that time.”

For context, the belief in the existence of ad wear-out is based on an experiment that took place among college students almost 50 years ago. In the experiment, the students became bored with an ad after viewing it for the fourth time. The results of this experiment have been used as a blueprint by marketers ever since and it is only now that this is being challenged.

Challenging – what and how we do something – is what we lack. We pay lip service to creativity and innovation. Sam Cooke sang that “the change is coming,” but for change to come in our industry, a paradigm shift is needed whereby brands and agencies need to embrace the possibility of failure, something that will mean unlearning years of conditioning and fear. It will not be easy to do this, but it needs to be done.

Mel Robbins, the American podcaster and author in a TED Talk on: “How to stop screwing yourself over,” warned her audience that getting what they want was simple but never easy.

We need to stop playing safe and start playing large. The future is not hopeless and the only way is up for our ad fraternity. It’s time to write a new chapter in Pakistani advertising.

Tyrone Tellis is Senior Manager, Corporate Sales and PR, Bogo.