Is Creativity really Dying in Pakistan? Really?

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Some activities make me smile, and one of them is how quickly people get together to crucify someone based on a simplistic binary assumption. Recently a Facebook group "Is creativity dying in Pakistan" has been spreading an emotional call-to-action to shun the advertising industry on their latest ‘blunder’. I’ve been spammed over and over again both by invitations to join the cause and also by Facebook ads, which goes out of its way to tell me whenever someone else joins the group.

The basic issue described was based on the pictures below, and went something like "ZOMG They Copiezzes from a Book! Haww!!" to deduce that creativity in ads is effectively dead.

banner01 banner02

I didnt take much note of this because I thought someone out there would probably say the obvious, but now that (today) people have started emailing me to cover this and join the pitchfork parade I thought its time to put in my thoughts.

Ok, so here’s the obvious:

Both of these pictures uses a stock photo of a green apple standing out from a sea of red apples. There are hundreds of stock photos out there like this, which can be easily found by searching for "Uniqueness" or "Being Different" or "Standing Out" etc in stock websites like Photos like these are incredibly common in business brochures (look at a handful of modern training or university brochures) or in official business reports that middle managers present to the C-level (to emphasize how good their department is doing).

Here’s a few that I found in a 3-min search:

Promotion,Gala Apple,Red Delicious Apple,Golden Delicious Apple,Apple,Fruit,Green,Red,Individuality,Standing Out From The Crowd,Contrasts,Thinking Outside The Box,Breaking New Ground,Innovation,Creativity,Concepts,Business,Group Leader,Leadership,In A Row,White,Isolated,Progress

Green,Red,Apple,Variation,Standing Out From The Crowd,Individuality,Contrasts,Equality,Equality,Fruit,Ideas,Concepts,Reconciliation,Endurance,Vector,Illustration and Painting,Clip Art,Computer Graphic,Leaf,Stem

Fruit,Apple,Green,Red,Individuality,Contrasts,Standing Out From The Crowd,Loneliness,Separation,Leadership,Single Object,Isolated,Dieting,Healthy Lifestyle,Eating,Descriptive Color,Food And Drink,Healthy Eating,Agriculture,Unhealthy Eating

Fruit,Apple,Red,Green,red apple,Granny Smith Apple,Gala Apple,Bizarre,Standing Out From The Crowd,Contrasts,Individuality,In A Row,Order,,Isolated On Black,Isolated

Isolated On White,Green,Apple,White,Stem,Fruit,Healthy Eating,Healthy Lifestyle,Food And Drink,Dieting,Shiny,Curve,Ripe,Juicy,Juice,Ingredient,Food,Candid,Shape,Red,Gala Apple,Single Line,In A Row,Bizarre,Leadership,Individuality,Contrasts,Standing Out From The Crowd,Variation,New,Stranger,Exoticism,Scarcity,Awe,atypical

Backgrounds,Copy Space,Concepts,Studio Shot,Horizontal,Nobody,Five Objects,In A Row,White Background,Apple,Red,Green,Fruit,Food,Gourmet,rosy,Shiny,Snack,Freshness,Stem,White,Healthy Eating,Refreshment,Standing Out From The Crowd,Contrasts,Individuality,stand-out

Green,Apple,Isolated,White,Fruit,Healthy Eating,Dieting,Shiny,Curve,Healthy Lifestyle,Food,Nature,Red,In A Row,Skill,Bizarre,Leadership,Teamwork,Individuality,Contrasts,Standing Out From The Crowd,Variation,Awe,atypical


Here’s the obvious thought: I dont think someone at an advertising agency came across the book by David Bach and said "Oh wow I’m so inspired and impressed by this brilliant display of an abstract concept that I’m just going to copy this into my own ad". I think there are pretty good odds that two designers spread across the world came across the same stock image and licensed it for their own use.

So an argument that I would’ve like to see would have been "Couldnt Zong find any other abstract image to represent a new package than to say that they’re different from the others? There’s no depth in that concept". Yes, finally some intellectual discussion that doesnt involve stakes and pitchforks.

But what about Creativity in PK anyway?

But on the broader subject of "Is Creativity Dying in Pakistan" – there is one particular trend that I have issue with… and I think this trend is what keeps ads in PK a lot less interesting or creative than ads elsewhere.

In most places in the world with creative advertising (lets say, USA, UK, Paris, India) advertising is created to implement or reinforce brand attributes of a company. Alltel is my favorite example, because they want the brand alltel to be considered a "company deserving the respect of people". That attribute drives their emotional ads which would move your soul.

In Pakistan, unfortunately, all advertising is created to implement or reinforce brand activation – i.e. just to make sure that the people seeing the ad can remember the *name* of the brand or package, if nothing else.

(Side note: This is also seen in viral videos online… some just use shock therapy to get you to watch… others create something valuable enough to share)

Given this premise though, the advertising companies here do their job correctly… the best way of doing brand activation is basically shock therapy. You’ll create this very weird set with people doing something shocking or awkward or unorthodox (e.g. a bunch of people dancing on a train or flying off of rooftops, hint hint; or people doing parkour in urban cities)… this will make the channel-surfer stop and notice. And then, rather than actually have any meaningful dialog in the ad you’ll just have catchy music and push the brand name on you over and over and over again in the ad (*talkshawk* *talkshawk* *talkshawk*).

This works for only one effect… No matter how much you hate the ad, you’re likely to remember the name (even if you hate it by then). Success isnt measured by the attributes that people hold a brand to, but just by whether or not they remember that brands’ name (again, even if they associate rage and hatred with that name by the end of the ad).


This is deplorable and frankly panders to the lowest or simplest common denominator, and unfortunately this requirement is driven by Brand Managers at companies who remain largely unaware of how to include brand attributes in the strategic goals of a company, such as competitive differentiation, reducing customer churn etc. Even if Brand Managers arent able to strategize this, they could hire consultants to help them with the job…. but for various cultural reasons that doesnt happen either.

To conclude: I’d love to be a participant of intellectual discussions about the deeper reasons or background related to the advertising industry but not in discussions that use extremely simplistic views of a situation to vent.

"ZOMG they didntz usez the deeper conceptz behind their brandddzez and panderzzes to the raw morality of their audiencez!! Haww!!" is what I’d like to see.

Facebook comments:


  • Thank you. What a waste of intelligence we have to make to point out the trivial, though! There is no truly strategic thinking forum on the subject – even if there are, they are taken over by tactical discussions of fonts and jpeg’s.

  • among a series of sad smily faces there is only one happy smiley.

    i saw something similar on Deviantart.

  • It would have been great if you wrote the title more carefully suggesting (if I am not mistaken) that creativity is dying in Pakistan’s “Advertising” Industry (without quotes of course). I would have saved some minutes by not hoping there was something else and more to the subject than just Advertising.

    Also, I don’t see why people can’t or shouldn’t use Stock Images. Yes, it won’t be highly creative (esp. when they’re used as is) but we as humans don’t need or desire creativity all the time.

    Is this community/blog/site totally creative from design to the app behind it, I don’t think so but does it serve the most primary purpose, I think so and I am fine with it for the time.

  • Way to go Osama … a wonderful read … thanks for standing out … the true Green Apple .. :)

  • Its more about that the ZONG is running on the “Chinese principle” of save as much money as you can, perhaps by even squeezing the fly that fell into the tea before throwing it out!

    You might also remember previous TV ads of ZONG which were actually the same as the ones used by them in China. Just a little green-screen magic and a Pakistani guy started walking in that.

    But still Osama, good catch 😉

  • ah ! … this is so delightful, I’m now witnessing a wave of social shunning of these creeps who make disgusting ads. But please, we would also need to promote the good apples too. Otherwise we’ll just end up getting stereo-typed that there’s no creativity in Pakistan. Hell yeh there is! … but only for paying customers 😛 and those who don’t poke their nose in your work. The former may not be true here anymore but the later will take some more social shunning to shed off

  • The title “Is creativity dying in Pakistan ? ” Interested me because for some time i have been seeking in PK a “creative “in the area of internet marketing strategy and thinking up business ideas..some one who could….
    For example starting with one or two words invent a business and ways to implement the idea ..this for thousands of words..
    I have so far drawn a blank .. Perhaps i have not been creative enough to invent a way of finding them ??! Ian

  • Is Creativity Dying in Pakistan? The problem within Pakistan is that turnover of staff, the churn rate, etc etc is HIGH. Everybody is in a hurry to do everything they do. Lets take the example of the Brand Managers as Osama mentioned them. The Brand Managers know that the role they are in is a short-term, stepping stone to something greater! So they come up with campaigns that would attract short-term, but high churn rate customers. Not really campaigns that build Brand Identity.
    Take the example that virtually all the Cellular Companies in Pakistan have followed to increase their user base. Repeatedly I see advertisements on the media which are to attract low end customers with minimal monthly spend, by offering silly deals such as if you have not used your SIM for the last two months or so, then we will give you an X amount of SMS Free or X amount of Talk Time etc. etc.

    Surely, anyone with an ounce of brain, knows that these low end customers NOW know that companies will do these deals so all they do is hop from one company to another at all times. I mean my chowkidaar keeps a SIM from all the companies and uses the one which has the “DEAL” at the time, according to him.

    Hey what about customers such as myself, my wife who haave been long time customers of the same company with HIGH monthly spends on not just talktime but other Value Added Services as well. Never is there any marketing to benefit these customers.

    So my point is that when you know that you have a short amount of time to demonstrate how “brilliant” you are in increasing customer numbers, what you do is you “COPY” an idea that has worked elsewhere. Sod the creativity and sod the loyalty, longevity and all such things. By the time the company seniors realise what I have done, hey I would have already impressed another company based on initial evidence of my Advertising campaign.

    There is creativity in Pakistan but DO NOT look at the big companies. Go look for it in the SME’s and one man independent self-employed setups. They are he ones with flair and creativity. The big companies with massive Advetising and marketing budgets are pandering to the sterotypes of the Pakistani masses and using their illiteracy to benefit their figures on short-term basis. A sort of any publicity is Good Publicity.


  • Adnan,

    Awesome awesome comment and great points – looking to hear more from you on other things.

  • Btw, I thought maybe this earlier thing might help understand ZONG philosophy when it comes to advertisement:


  • Doh ! I had forgotten earlier to refer to a similar post to show that this epidemic of cheating creativity does not only hold true for Pakistan. Our neighbors are at it too !

    I guess this is the “save time” “lesser budget” “get it done and grab the payment” methodology at work. This is specifically true for their various media niches including Bollywood about which no one needs to give examples.

    My point is that this is somehow true for this whole region i.e. India and Pak. Whats’ up ? people don’t take pride in their work ? is that because of the employers ? the employees ? – the whole region is marked by the world to get “cheap labor” from. We are not known for our creativity which is sad. Or does poverty stand at the very core of the problem ?

  • :indiff: If They really had to take inspiration from the Book design. They could design their Print ad in a different way keeping the same concept. But Its a Carbon Copy. :indiff:

  • There is nothing called “original” in the world there just can’t be. The thing is an artist (any medium)might be inspired by a logo. A design pattern. A wall hanging, anything even nature. Every thing has to start from something.

    You just can’t put a blame on someone being a thief that easily now can you? Like a lot of songs you hear maybe really similar at times, are they copied? No, there not you have say 5 string you have the combinations, they are bound to repeat one time or another without any one knowing it.

    Whats more important is, the thing is conveying the message its suppose to deliver in the desired way or not ? If it is and ZONG is getting their revenues, does it really matter?

  • As for me looking at something like this as a layman…i would still think that there is surely lack of originality…..and is it always about revenues….i do agree with Ujmi on this…..comparing it with other networks i think that they do come up with new concepts or reviving the old one…recently saw the Jazz 68 paisa Tvc..much better than the previous well all in a days work its original..anything which is creative and original should be out of the spheres or revenue…its about your brand name and pride….thats all wat i can say….

  • Well, ZONG has done it again. They’ve proved that they don’t have enough creative ideas to make their advertisements. Their recent TV commercial has ideas taken from a movie, lol.

    See this link here:

  • i HATE zomg. the title was true just before i started reading this, but after reading it out, i don’t think so :)

    and the line in urdu “koi tu hai jo sab se barh kar hai” also shows d creativity of our creative writers. they even didn’t get the image concept right.

  • brother osama , reply me plz on my email

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