Published in Sep-Oct 2022
Personally, I have never been enthralled by perfection. Ideals are great, but searching for perfection in people and situations seems to me to be largely a waste of time. In my years spent associated with advertising and marketing, I have seen how brands and agencies interact and develop ideas. I have also noticed a difference between the ads we are given as blueprints – as references – and, more often than not, these are Indian ads rather than local. They are the ones we praise and remember as opposed to the thousands that pass us by like ships in the night.
There is always a ton of debate about why Indian ads, at least the ones we are exposed to, are better and more memorable than ours. Part of the reason, in my view, is that Indian ads are inspirational, unlike Pakistani ads, which are focused on being aspirational.
A good example are telecom ads. We all love the Airtel, Virgin and Idea ads to name a few. Indian ads depict the less privileged segments of society, whereas Pakistani ads tend to show people who have life made. I will never forget the Airtel ad which communicated the affordability of their packages and showed that even the least paid worker at a barber shop could use their services. Imagine a Pakistani ad showing something like this. It would never have been approved, at least not until a few years ago, if that. Telenor did produce a beautiful series of ads that depicted a driver and his family, starring Savera Nadeem and Rashid Farooqui, and showed real-life situations in a powerful way. They were simple and the characters were real. This, according to Tay Guan Hin (now at BBDO and founder of TGH Collective), checks two of the three attributes – relevant, relatable and real – which determine whether an ad embraces imperfection or not.
Although we seem to be attracted to what is beautiful and perfect, psychology says that as humans we resonate more with people who expose their vulnerability and imperfections. This can be a bitter pill for the ad industry in Pakistan to swallow – it has always sold glitz and glamour and relied on stars to push products. However, showing real people is not a concept entirely alien to our market. Once, when I visited my uncle, who rose to become an executive director at State Life, at his office, I found him discussing an annual calendar with some of his subordinates. That was when I learnt that State Life’s policy does not permit showing a photo of a ‘family’ in their ads unless it is an actual family. At the time I thought this was a bit extreme but in recent years, brands have embraced the idea of showing real customers instead of actors or celebrities – they are moving away from showing the perfect life. Ads where everything in the house is clean and tidy may appeal to the fantasy of some people, but in general the audience ends up feeling unhappy about their current situation compared to the lives shown on screen. In short, aspiration only goes so far. The world is messy and complicated and advertising needs to show that world.
Brands have to learn to show real, flawed imperfectly perfect situations, as enunciated by Amanda Rouse in her article Why Brands Embrace the ‘Perfectly Imperfect’. The article offers tips on how to embrace imperfection, the first one being: show good scenarios not ideal ones. Realistically speaking, no product can transform a customer’s life from the ordinary to the extraordinary, so it is smarter to show how a brand fits into real life. Second, accept product imperfections; acknowledge a complaint and show how the feedback was used to improve the product in the long run. Third, show normal people doing normal things.
It is interesting how the search for perfect can inhibit us from being effective and impactful. We want to create the perfect ad with the perfect visual and perfect copy to create what Tom Hurrell in his article The Beauty of Imperfection: What Marketers Can Learn from Wabi-Sabi, calls harmony.
In fact, perfection is heavily overrated and I have since come to appreciate the following quote by Michael J. Fox: “I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.” Looking back, it is obvious that Fox is wiser than most of us. Social media is often blamed for fuelling fakeness, but recently it has been championing authenticity and vulnerability. It’s about time brands pay attention and embrace imperfections. The future may not be perfect but it can be exciting.
Tyrone Tellis is Marketing Manager, Bogo. firstname.lastname@example.org