Well here we are then. At the starting line of yet another era in Pakistani advertising, but one that promises to turn the industry on its head as much as the television did at some point. We are poised to head into a playing field that will empower the viewer, and will be judged through a much more discriminating lens. This is going to be the age of the highly liquid, opinionated and interactive consumer; the young, who have an attention span of 2.8 seconds; the consumer who will eventually tell you openly that they don’t give a 0.000000000000000003 bitcoin for your jingle-based, chest-beating themes.
In September 2017, Pakistan won its first major international digital advertising award for a commercial brand: PepsiCo’s Sting picked up a Silver trophy at the prestigious Spikes Asia in Singapore for its effective use of an influencer or talent in a social media space. The digital campaign by BBDO and Proximity Pakistan, which went against the commonly heard adage in Pakistan that “digital won’t convert directly into sales,” grew sales by 30% for the brand. This was a campaign that mastered the art of crowd-sourced content through engaging and interactive social media: online participants actually helped ‘coach’ UK boxer Amir Khan back into the ring after an online film launched the campaign.
More recently, the world’s first transgender chatbot was built in Pakistan for the Asia Pacific Transgender Network in a campaign called ‘Change The Clap’. The chatbot, written through the most commonly searched questions on Google, was aimed at helping people understand those that they fear approaching.
It has taken us a long time, but Pakistan is finally starting to claw its way to the future in advertising technology usage and the digital space – we have moved beyond ‘Like if you agree, comment if you don’t’. Admittedly, Pakistan is still far behind the rest of the world but shows promise, as the above cases exemplify. The very meaning of traditional advertising is changing due to technology. In an astonishingly smart move, Burger King in the US transformed what a 15-second commercial meant when they used their TV spot to trigger a Google Home device and continue expanding on what a Whopper contained. Elsewhere, in an incredible example of real-time response affecting sales prices, the ‘Hungerithm’ campaign for Snickers gauges the mood of the internet and adjusts the price of their candy bars in 7-Eleven stores accordingly, in real-time. Basically, the angrier the internet, the cheaper the candy – to make everyone a bit happier. In a world which constantly argues on the internet, it doesn’t take much to calculate how successful this campaign was.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” said Arthur C. Clarke, and technological advances such as 360 VR or holograms do feel like magic. Whether you are standing at the top of the World Trade Centre, or watching an army of hologram protesters walk by, or getting Nicole Kidman to give you a tour around the Etihad Airbus A380, advertising that taps into geeky technology can be incredibly impactful.
360 VR has been around for a while and brands have tapped into its power of bringing about wonder very creatively. Of course, as the saying goes, content might be king, but context is emperor; and so, some brands have used it much more effectively than others.
How applicable is such abracadabra to Pakistan? I spoke to David James, Director of Projects at Valkyrie, a company that specialises in hologram technology and has worked with the folks who did the Tupac Shakur hologram. He was pretty enthusiastic: “Imagine being able to watch Naheed Siddiqui perform with her younger self, or Noor Jehan serenading us one more time. Imagine the biggest names in music, film and theatre gracing the floorboards of Pakistan’s fledgling events and stage industry. Imagine Pakistan’s universities hosting lectures by some of the finest minds of our generation, or teaching their medical students how to perform life-saving procedures on holographic body parts. Imagine interacting with someone who seems to be right there in front of your very eyes at the next board meeting, despite them being 10,000 miles away. Holographic technology is literally transforming people’s lives across the world. It is going to change the way people in Pakistan live, learn and play. The possibilities are endless; the only boundaries are our imaginations.”
It is an incredibly playful time for creatives, and a scary one too. Tech changes rapidly, as do trends, and it is vital to stay in touch with what is capturing eyeballs and share of discussion. For a creative, the question to ask is simple: what is an interesting and modern piece of technology that can help me deliver my message in a highly immersive manner – one that can provide the level of disruption and engagement that is so elusive in traditional marketing? Or, in other words, how the hell do I do something that is newer than putting lights on a billboard? (As an example, McDonald’s in the UK uses traffic data to change the headlines on its digital billboards.)
Of course, this is not to say that all modern technology will evolve advertising to a new level anyways. What a marketing person needs to figure out is at what point of the curve will they decide to jump in: will they be trend-setters or will they be copycat followers? I am guessing that this new era will inspire clients to become braver – something the industry much needs.
For Pakistan, the biggest change technology and the digital space will bring is that it will give more control to the viewer on what they want to consume, which will force brands to build better content that is not only sales-oriented but is more focused on entertainment that eventually translates into brand building and sales.
I keep going back to Helmut Krone’s quote: “I am only interested in the new.” There is no better a motto to adopt if you want to stay ahead in advertising and give your brand a better chance at being noticed and remembered. The kind of content you produce certainly bears the lion’s share of responsibility in achieving this, but the medium you use can sometimes be just as important.
Pakistan is now featured constantly on the global map of advertising and creativity; this year, the country was listed in the Top 40 Creative Countries by the WARC Gunn Report, an index that measures excellence in the field. For a country that before 2014 never featured in any award show, we have come a long way by winning more than 150 medals in the last four years.
Here is an opportunity to make it through the next 70 years – not as followers, but as trend-setters in this new age of adverteching.
Ali Rez is Regional Creative Director for Middle East and Pakistan, BBDO Worldwide.
First published in THE DAWN OF ADVERTISING IN PAKISTAN (1947-2017), a Special Report published by DAWN on March 31, 2018.