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Reviewing the Advertising industry in Pakistan

Reviewing the Advertising industry in Pakistan

By Noor Tariq


The Advertising Industry in Pakistan has gone through several phases of evolution ever since the formation of the country. From 1947 to 1964, urban areas were the only ones that had advertising messages targeted towards them through print ads, while radio emerged as a promising medium too. From 1964 to 1978, television stole the show and became the main medium of interest. From 1978 to 1988, advertising ideologies evolved with the advent of colored television. Graphic technologies came into play to make advertising more attractive. From 1998 to 2008, the rise of the golden age of the film industry led to modern and more visually appealing advertisements. 2008 to 2010 saw the introduction of Indian celebrities in advertisements. From 2010 to 2022, Television and digital media have become important advertising mediums whereas print and radio have witnessed a downfall.

Advertising Agencies and their Achievements

In a decades time, with the expansion of the growing viewership of Television, multinational companies began to realize the advantages in store for using specialist agencies, which are expertise and lower costs. The two to three people boutique agencies ended after 2000, after which specialist agencies bloomed, however the economy went through heavy losses soon after, and consequently so did the specialist agencies.

Around 2010, boutique agencies started realizing the opportunities in advertising, especially due to the existence of local brands. These brands started realizing how vital it is to create a unique identity for them, so they increased the proportion of their budget that was to be allocated to marketing. The size of the revenues became too big and so, agencies decided to start up their media wings.

A divergence from formula based work enabled advertiser to experiment with their content, thus landing Pakistan in the international advertising landscape. In 2015, BBDO Pakistans “Not a Bug Splat” campaign won two Gold Lions at Cannes whereas MoltyFoam won a Bronze Lion for their “The World’s First Billbed” campaign. This was huge for Pakistan because the advertising efforts started getting international attention. In 2017, BBDOs “#BeatMe” campaign again earned them a Gold Cilo internationally. In 2019, Pakistan hosted AdAsia, giving the advertising industry a chance to display their creativity and talent.

Advertising as a Career

Moreover, over the decade, employees working for the advertising department have drastically evolved in terms of how and where they learned creative work from. Agencies themselves initially trained and mentored fresh talent. However, now it is expected of anyone applying for creative jobs to already have knowledge of the business. This has in turn led to the formation of institutes dedicated to teaching these fundamentals needed to be in the creative business, as well as parents becoming more accepting towards advertising as a profession. This is because advertising now offers financial security; hence it is now considered a reputable profession.

Advertising and Gender Roles

Women’s role in the creative workforce has drastically increased over the years. It wasn’t easy for women to get into this industry earlier and they didn’t receive any perks either. However, in todays time, companies like Saatchi and Saatchi accommodate women by providing  transport for them if they stay for longer than they are required to, due to the workload.  Moreover, pay scales for women have increased too. This is because earlier, what mattered was to have good relations with clients for successful ad campaigns to run, but now the focus has shifted to the big idea instead. This has opened many doors for creativity which has in turn, opened many job opportunities for women. Women in ad agencies are mostly appointed on creative jobs, whereas men deal with the technical jobs. The perception related to advertising has also changed among people, so they don’t consider it an inappropriate job. Rather they pursue it as a degree because they believe it gives them opportunities to express themselves freely.

Because many organizations in Pakistan don’t accommodate women for maternity leaves, the dropout rate of women after getting married has been increasing though. However, organizations don’t make as much revenues as large ones do, so this factor may remain the same for the years to come.

Pakistans advertising industry can be considered an extremely women inclusive industry, through which women have bagged big achievements in the advertising department. However, the amount of men who have reached high positions in the advertising department still far outweighs the number of women who have done the same. Parity still exists between men and women in leadership roles and compensation, so there is still a long way to go before equal opportunities are available for both the genders in the industry.

Advertising, Digital Media and Television

In Fiscal Year 2013-2014, Gallup Pakistan published that TV spending was 60% of the total amount of advertising revenue in Pakistan, however internet was 1% of it.

Smartphone penetration has seen a drastic growth since then, going from 10% in 2014 to 51.43% in 2022. Due to this very growth, times have rapidly changed. Brands are now embracing digital advertising, but their decisions still heavily rely on their assumptions from the past. Owing to this, companies still spend the most on television; with television taking 65-70% of the current ad spend by default in Pakistan. The reason behind this is that brands believe it’s more visual and has the most number of target audience.

A change in Tv advertising trends has been observed over the decade as well. Higher advertising rates and ad droppage that result from clutter have resulted in more focused and shorter ad campaigns. Campaigns that ran for a month have now been shortened to 2 weeks. Clients of ad agencies prefer to get more creativity and innovation in their ads, compared to them wanting only good GRPs earlier. This is why they have been using the flighting approach lately, in which an ad campaign runs for two weeks, then is halted before the campaign is run again for another two weeks. This helps save money and doesn’t become too annoying for the audience to repetitively watch either.

Digital media provides analytics unlike TV does, which is why it is slowly gaining popularity in Pakistan. Brands are now realizing the power of the internet, but its true potential still remains undermined. Brands are hesitant to invest too much into digital marketing which is why more than 90% of their campaigns don’t fully capture their target audience. Nonetheless, ad spending on social media has drastically increased from US $13.63 million to US $30.89 million in 2022.

Compared to years 2015 to 2022, linear and digital media saw huge growth in 2017, although both declined in 2018.

Reviewing the yearly growth of digital advertising in Pakistan, it can be seen that this is the only form of advertising that has been constantly growing from even before the Covid-19 pandemic. From 2015 to 2020, digital advertising has made up more than 30% of the total ad revenue. Revenue in the Digital Media market is projected to reach US$401.50m in 2022.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, traditional media and digital media ad sales saw a downfall in 2020, but most of this was due to linear ad sales. Digital ad sales saw a boom for many countries, as it did in Pakistan, with brands focusing on digital advertising more than traditional advertising because the whole shopping system turned into an online one too.

Another change that has been witnessed over the past decade is that earlier, brands considered having lots of “likes” on Facebook posts meant that they had a strong digital presence. The focus has now shifted from “likes” to “engagement or desired action”. Many brands also believe that advertising agencies are not good for driving sales. They believe agencies are only interested in making profit and digital media enables them to do so. Where they charged 3% or less on traditional advertising, they are charging 10% to sometimes more than 18% on digital media advertising.

Out of Home (OOH) advertising

Up until 2010, outdoor advertising was considered to be just a supporting medium to TV and print media. There was not much thought that went into planning it, in terms of communication, rather what was displayed on billboards were mere adaptations of the print ads of the same brand.

This function of outdoor advertising evolved when companies, such as Kinetic, introduced touch points.

With the evolvement in function, evolvement in media planning of OOH has also come about. Target audience is properly planned, so is the quality of execution when it comes to OOH now. It’s performance was also hard to track before 2015, but Pakistan Advertisers Society introduced “Measuring OOH Visibility and Exposure” (MOVE) to monitor the success of OOH in the advertising world. This helped setting a criterion to measure the success of OOH against, not in terms of where the ad is placed but in terms of GRPs, CPRPs etc. on the basis of the target audience of individual brands.

The reason behind the growing attention towards OOH is that firstly, it cannot be ignored or skipped like TV ads, and secondly, people now spend much of their life outside their homes, so this change in behavior has caused OOH to evolve from a support medium to a proper advertising medium in itself.

The year 2017 can be considered the year OOH went digital in Pakistan.

Advertising and social change

Over the last 12 years, Pakistani advertisements have undergone a great transition. The messages have gone from reinforcing stereotypes to those breaking them. Strong social messages are being given out through various ad campaigns.

Women were mostly depicted as the weaker gender in advertisements, fulfilling gender roles that have been long assigned to them by the society. Most ads would show women (mostly newly weds) cooking for their husbands and then anxiously waiting for their approval of the food. Many ads now show the male members of the family cooking in the kitchen. One such example is of Shans “Khushiyan Chakh Lo” campaign in which, the father cooks for the daughter while she is caught up in her professional responsibilities.

Similarly, ads were and still are dominated by men when it comes to products related to banking, automobiles etc. However, those too are witnessing a change as women are also being portrayed as independent beings who drive and invest money into banks because they earn too now.

Earlier, fashion brands would portray glamorous models going around pretty locations adorned in fashion wear. Today, times have changed and advertisements have become more inclusive. For example, Nishat Linens ad campaign showed two women, high-fiving each other, one in a more “modern” attire and the other in a “niqab”, showing that their products are meant for all women.

Lastly, “Fair and Lovely” having to change its name to “Glow and Lovely” is an example in itself of the power of advertising, not just in Pakistan but also throughout the rest of the world. The brand faced a lot of pressure, majorly from India and Pakistan to stop promoting fair skin. To successfully advertise its products and stay in the race of breaking stereotypes, Fair and Lovely had to change its name to satisfy the audience.

Covid 19 and Advertising

Media budgets for radio fell from 5% to 3.5%, as a decrease in commute was experienced due to the pandemic. Even when people were commuting, they were more focused on getting back home and staying safe from the virus, so their attention wasn’t fully directed towards the radio, as it would be previously. After the Pulwama Attack and the ban on Indian music, the Covid-19 pandemic further worsened the listenership of radio.

Similarly, OOH had also suffered at the hands of the pandemic as well due to less traffic on roads. The Buy-To-Let (BTL) Industry had gone through a downfall because people were stuck at home, malls have been closed and traffic on roads had been kept to a minimum. In-store marketing is also deemed to be useless as outlets remained closed.

According to Profit Pakistan, brands spent 35 per cent less on advertising in Ramadan 2020 than they did in Ramadan 2019. This was because the demand of fast moving consumer goods increased automatically, so advertisers did not deem it necessary to spend uselessly on advertising.

Ads related to personal hygiene however, struggled to voice themselves through advertising, linking their products to protection against the virus.

As the advertising spendings on essentials declined, the telecommunications industry spending increased. People being stuck at home heavily started accessing platforms such as YouTube and Netflix which consequently had an impact on the telecommunications industry.

Digital Banking advertising through television also rose because people started avoiding physically visiting banks and ATM’s to avoid the risk of the spread of the virus.

Digital media advertisements initially went dark, then campaigns by brands related to corporate social responsibility started surfacing and then budget allocation to digital maintenance were allocated.

In April 2020, the ad spend on digital media went down but rapidly came back up the next month in May. Brands started investing in social and digital media advertising as consumer behavior changed and everything shifted online. Brands main aim was to make revenues and this they started doing through digital media, the only medium that wasn’t negatively affected by the pandemic.

During this time, advertisers’ utilized influencer marketing as it was cheaper to do and it didn’t require for them to produce ads; influencers come up with their own content and have a big audience as well.

The ad spend by brands offering fast moving consumer goods increased on digital media, as they spent on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to target the Pakistani audience and gain an insight into consumer behavior, so to direct them to online marketplaces.

EasyPaisa and Coca-Cola targeted their audiences through TikTok whereas L’Oreal made use of influencer marketing to promote its brand.

It can therefore be seen that Pakistan’s advertisement industry is trying hard to keep up with the changing technological advancements and consumer behavior. Although the industry is struggling to let go of television as the medium of choice, it is still adopting and slowly moving towards utilizing digital and social media platforms through influencer marketing, as well as YouTube and Facebook ads. The changes in the content being aired through advertisement is also evolving in a positive way, hence giving hope that the future has much more to promise.