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.
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 istockphoto.com. 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:
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.