*I've used the term Marketing and Advertising interchangeably. I don't know the difference and I'm not going to google it. This essentially refers to anyone trying to present an "image", PR firms, Ad agencies etc.
Can there really be anything more evil than Marketing? An entire profession dedicated to making people feel inadequate. It’s not about spreading the message of the existence of a product. If that were the case we would have advertisements stating the specifications of the product, and/or footage of real, unpaid people testifying to its quality. But that’s not what we get. What we get on our television screens are people endorsing products they have never used and associating the use of certain brands to success or happiness; essentially trying to manipulate us with outright dishonesty. Because at the end of the day, that’s the function of Marketing: to professionalize the skills of habitual liars and schemers (those, of course, who don’t go into politics).
To start simply, you can see the more ridiculously blatant of these attempts on telemarketing channels. There’s always a Herculean couple, dressed up in their gym clothes convincing people that all they need to do is sit in front of the television like a slob, (an activity that should not require work-out clothes) while a belt around their midriff whirrs away to give them the perfect figure. Obviously, the existence of these two titans is to make us think that they are satisfied customers of said product. Of course, seeing the way anyone who needs a fat-free body, from models to bodybuilders, seems to be doing it by controlling their diet and working out, this implication seems not entirely genuine.
On mainstream television these attempts become only slightly less absurd. A whole array of actresses and models are lined up to tell us about the latest whitening cream. Quite apart from the issue of beauty products stereotyping beauty and banishing all non-conformists to the realm of the unattractive, these products are deliberately misleading in their advertisements. For ages, these women have been quite blatantly blacking up for the ‘before’ shot of their advertisements only to be magically whitened in the course of the 30 second ad. Nobody seems to be pointing out that they were already pretty fair to begin with. That’s why they are models in the first place.
And while you were still reeling from this deception, Fair and Lovely decided they needed to expand their customer base in Pakistan to the increasingly vain male population as well. Enter Shahid Afridi, divulging his use of the product, though only for skin protection. Lala, the proud Pathan, has yet to go all the way and suggest he was born as black as the night and owes his current complexion to the regular use of whitening creams. If Fair and Lovely are really so keen on proving the efficacy of their product, why don’t they start with someone who’s a bit more of a challenge?
‘Celebrity endorsements’ is the term used. Random celebrities are paid vast sums of money to come on television and tell us they use a certain product and are amazed by it. Most of the time, of course, they are lying. On the other hand, if they were so very excited about their purchases that they really couldn’t keep the good news to themselves, do they really need to be paid to shout it from the hilltops. Shouldn’t they be doing this for free, or even paying for the privilege? Of course, we suspect something is afoot, but stay generally quiet because at some level we have accepted that it’s okay to lie if the price is right. Anywhere else this would be a conflict of interest, here its creative advertising.
In fact, pretty much anything is acceptable if the price is right, even using your own child as an advertising gimmick. Yes, I’m looking at you Nadia Khan -you and your shameless exhibition of your motherhood and your child. I don’t doubt you would have loaned the poor child to the circus, or even the zoo if the price was right. But there again, Nadia isn’t alone. Something all the more painful for a lifelong Bushra Ansari fan. Why Bushra Ansari, why?!
But celebrity endorsement is only one of the many dirty tricks that are practiced as an art form. There is also pandering to cultural and social moods or trends. The extreme of these is now hitting us with the latest Islamic Banking ads (which I have only heard on the radio, I don’t know if they’re on television as well) which basically declare conventional banking to be devoid of “Barkat”. How they are being allowed to pass fatwas willy-nilly is something that has me completely flabbergasted.
On the other hand, this isn’t the first time religion is being dragged in to do the dirty work of the advertisers. Every Ramazan, we are inundated with advertisements creating an aura of holiness and spirituality around products such as packaged milk and cooking oil. This was quite an issue last Ramazan, with the growing concern in the state about rising religious sentiment.
Interestingly, nobody seemed to have any issue with the exploitation of nationalistic feeling by these companies. There were no complaints while Coca Cola and Pepsi, foreign companies both of them, were trying to outdo themselves in their support for the Pakistan Cricket Team during the World Cup. Switch the channel, and both of them were competing with each other in their support for the Indian team. Nobody seemed to find this odd at all. And this was just during a time of heightened nationalism. During the rest of the year, several other foreign companies tell us about their commitment to our country and assure us of their support in our endeavours to improve it.
Around the world, adverts are accepted as a necessary evil. Well, until advertisers decided it didn’t have to be that way. Adverts could be creative, interesting, entertaining, works of art even. So, wittily prepared 30 second sketches or movies, or whatever you may want to call them started to take over. These had the advantage of being subtle, entertaining, and equally as evil (effective) as before. So now, people didn’t have to just put up with ad breaks, they could enjoy them.
Unfortunately, this last part has completely evaded us in Pakistan. We are still stuck with the ridiculously patronising and irritating ads the rest of the world gave up on two decades ago. So now, we suffer the double whammy of being subjected to evil and not even enjoying it.
The list of irritating Pakistani ads is almost never-ending. There are the “people always ask me…. My answer is always…” ads which make you think, “Okay, but are you lying to them? And why are you telling me this anyway? Don’t you think it’s a little self-obsessed to be discussing this with a complete stranger?”.
There are the irritatingly wholesome family ads where the self-effacing mother is willing to deflect credit to any product that she has used. In fact this kind of irritating glorification of products comprises a majority of other ads as well – “Don’t thank me, thank…” Really? You want me to thank an inanimate object? Or should I write a letter of thanks to the CEO of the company? I really can’t decide which would be saner.
Another brilliant theme was the real people theme - when surprise surprise, a full TV crew shows up at someone’s house to wash their dishes, or their clothes or interview them or some other such thing. And we tolerated the banality of this right up to the point they decided to advertise toilet cleaning liquid in this same fashion. Does it really take a media management genius to figure out that watching other peoples dirty toilet bowls is not something we look forward to while we sit in front of our televisions?
One recent ad that deserves honourable mention in this category is the recent Zong “sau pe sau”. It quite obviously an advertisement conceived and produced by someone with a spectacularly low opinion of the Pakistani public and with no attempts to conceal his contempt. I can just picture him now boarding his helicopter on his way to the Annual Uncreative Evildoers Convention, quickly briefing his assistant, “Just get two flashily dressed idiots wetting themselves with excitement over the prospect an extra hundred rupees. These drones will lap it up!”
Then again, at least Zong tries to stay on message. Warid is beyond even attempting to be coherent. Apparently, we are supposed to go out and buy Warid connections after watching “filmstar Noor” teaching another woman how to dance. Looking at it now, it must have cost quite a bit of money, with all the extras, the sets, and the expensive looking picture quality; makes it even more unbearable to think of the far more useful causes that money could’ve been put to. One can only hope that whoever was responsible was captured and duly punished.
The list is long, and I might return to update it, as it stands I might be here all night going on about it. Just one more before I go though; that smug Habib Supersaver woman, she makes me want to punch her in the mouth.