The World: Insider's View - Pakistan

Budgets are becoming bigger and executions slicker, but Pakistan's TV commercials are 'looking glorious, saying nothing', Fatima Malik writes.

What happens if a country doesn't have a vibrant indigenous film industry or other common means of mass entertainment? Advertising, specifically in the form of TV commercials, is called on to do the job.

The ad industry in Pakistan is a case in point. Unlike other markets in the world where the focus is shifting from conventional media, Pakistan remains a place where print and TV still reign supreme.

And with print advertising being expensive and having relatively low penetration, TV becomes the medium of choice to deliver brand communications. So much so that TV advertising accounts for roughly 47 per cent of the total media spend. Couple this with the meteoric rise of local TV channels recently and you have advertising clutter in full glory.

You would think that, in order to stand out in this chaos of commercial content, Pakistani television advertising would automatically get smarter, more inventive, surprising and, in a nutshell, more creative. Instead, the solution arrived at is slightly less obvious at first glance.

Enter the big film. Not to be confused with the film with a big idea.

Advertisers have responded to the increasing TV clutter by arming themselves with execution chops. Budgets have become bigger; productions, slicker; sets, grander; locations, exotic; and post-production as cutting-edge as the Pakistani rupee can buy. The bigger the brand, the glossier the film.

Unfortunately, with so much focus given to the execution, content generally ends up falling by the wayside. Instead of a targeted message that creates a brand image based on concrete, ownable values relevant to the product's core user base, what you get is a star-studded mega dose of entertainment. Looking glorious, saying nothing.

And even in this vacuity, these big TV commercials tend to follow a formula. In Pakistan, it usually consists of either feelgood interactions between members of an average Pakistani household, or an elaborate song-and-dance number featuring local celebrities. The former is common in the FMCG industry; the latter employed by telecommunications giants, although the lines frequently blur. But no matter what the formula, grandeur and slickness of production is usually a given.

And the ultimate consequence of this unusual emphasis on execution? The same problem it was meant to counter: a sea of similar and forgettable communication. Because executions are replicable, and the race for the biggest production governed solely by budgets. For brands to get noticed, more investment is needed in the big idea rather than the big execution. A simple idea, yet a profound result.

Fresh, yet relevant to the brand. Contained enough to be executed on a handheld if need be; big enough to make the brand stand tall.

- Fatima Malik is the creative director of Ogilvy Pakistan.