August, 2018

Notes for a Play named ‘Anwar Maqsood’
By Javed Jabbar

These are draft notes for a 3-Act play about a character unlike any other one has ever met. Every human being is unique. A few are more so than most. Anwar Maqsood is in that handful.

Act One: August 1963. Day-time. Scene: Faculty of Arts, University of Karachi.

Dozens of students walk on the open, roofed walk-ways, and through corridors, in and out of classes, or lounge on steps, or on the grass. This writer is one of them, part of the first-ever first-year B.A Honours group in International Relations comprising only 5 students.

Bad News for Media

There was a time when good old Leo Burnett, the ad man, not his advertising network, said that an advertisement should sell a product and not the ad agency that created the advertisement; other prominent ad men assert that it is advertising that is responsible for creating a need for products or services in a world that has grown furiously competitive. The fact is that advertising is behind all the consumerism that continues to blanket the world and everyone, from researchers to manufacturers, marketers, advertising media and ad professionals, are in a fierce race to get more and more consumers.

It is true that advertising is supposed to present nothing but a good story (whether it is true or not) about the product or service being sold so that the target consumer can reach into his or her pocket and buy the product. Advertising for every product or service takes out all the stops in claiming the enormous benefits offered. This became so comically obvious in recent months when the major political parties in Pakistan took to the media in claiming through their advertisements all that they had given (or imagined they had given) to the people over the past years. It was quite funny that these claims were only being made close to the approaching elections. None of these political parties had ever thought before the run-up to the elections to inform the people about all the ‘good’ work they had done over the years. It seemed that they had either forgotten to tell their good stories earlier or were only telling lies and making tall but false claims. It was true though that the PML(N) had spent quite a sum during its term in office, obviously from the government exchequer, both at the centre and in the Punjab, in undertaking projects that benefited only a part of the population and then trumpeting its ‘achievements’ through consistent advertising campaigns. The PPP then went into a ‘me-too’ mode and used the Sindh government’s money to relate its own story of the numerous public-benefit projects it had undertaken in the province. Despite all this, the fact remained that the country’s largest city, namely Karachi, remained nothing more than a ‘kachra kundi’ (garbage dump) and the city’s municipal authorities were blamed for it. In this situation, the advertising media, such as television, radio, print, outdoor and the online channels had a whale of a time, scooping up all the huge budgets that were being spent. Their bottom lines must have become fatter by many millions – or billions – of rupees. Besides those who consumed the free biryani and qeema nans, others who benefitted most from the election euphoria were the media owners.

Pakistani advertising is said to have become highly fragmented over the years and this is a trend that the world has generally followed. There was a time when print was supreme and there was no other medium except newspapers and magazines and a bit of shoddily painted outdoor signs. Then other media started coming, like radio, television and digital. This was a global story and was true for Pakistan as well. From a few newspapers and a single, state-run Radio Pakistan, progress was made when PTV came in 1964 and has been state-run to this day. However, a major change occurred when Pakistani media was unexpectedly liberated by a military ruler in the early 2000s. The media people could not believe that they had been provided a level of freedom that they hadn’t ever thought of before. As a result, the media scene exploded with new newspapers, magazines, FM radio networks, lots of new TV channels and new outdoor sign printing technology. It was then that it became increasingly difficult for advertising planners to channelize ad spends in a focused manner.

The fragmentation of the media was not good news for advertising in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world. Advertising budgets were split into small, ineffective portions and focus was lost. This, in turn, led to a tremendous increase in ad spends and now more money is being spent on TV advertising than on any other medium so that the message can be communicated to the most people. The bigger channels with greater audience penetration get the major portion of the ad budgets but the fragmentation factor continues to negatively impact the singular focus that effective advertising needs. In this scenario, the print medium has been left behind and that is the bad news.


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