When I did my Masters in Mass Communication, I had a lot of plans and a host of dreams. The field is vast and options are unlimited. Besides colourful, glossy hard-cover magazines that offer multi-interest chat and thought provoking features, what always inspired me was the word ADVERTISING. Like every other youngster, I believed that Advertising is a dream world, full of glamour, fun and above all creativity. But only after six months I joined an advertising agency, I had to change my perception.
The experience of working as a concept writer in the creative department of a recognized advertising agency (sounds quite impressive!) proved to be nerve-wracking rather than interesting. Despite having no experience in the realm of dream making, I was warmly welcomed by the agency due to my journalistic background and perhaps due to the fact that the administration was keenly looking for people with bilingual writing skills. Young and friendly colleagues, impressively intellectual boss and a reasonable pay scale were enough incentives to attract me to the job.
Anyway, the reality of “All that glitters is not gold” dawned on me more quickly than ever in this case. In an advertising agency anything can be ideal for a worker except the unpredictable nature of the jobs and odd working hours. To work as a junior in the creative department of an agency, one needs iron nerves and immense patience. Because every intelligent idea of yours, which you think can bring a revolution in the world of marketing, can be rejected outright on one pretext or the other.
More than often, I witnessed that brilliantly creative ideas were rejected in favour of the clients’ foolish inclinations and schemes. He is that Anokha Ladla who pays hefty amounts and demands to play with the moon (it can be the name of an emerging model). And being a service provider, you have to respect clients’ wishes. To my surprise, I also found that some senior creative and client service personnel who were enjoying clients’ blind faith easily made them a fool. They took the rejected ideas of their juniors, brought cosmetic changes in them with flowery language and got it approved on their credit. No doubt, advertising rather salesmanship is an art!
The best thing advertising world taught me is to cope with a strangely interesting variety of people. ‘Say yes’ with fully encouraging smile to a mobile company executive, who considered himself Bill Gate of the Third World and listened to his unrelated, disgusting speech patiently in wrong English for hours. Decipher and correct the otherwise ‘impossible to understand’ manuscript sent by a client dealing with famous beauty products. Some clients had an utterly immature attitude. They followed the practice of ‘reject first, accept later’ persistently.
There was a lady executive who always asked for at least two options of every ad, made a poor mixture of the two quite intelligently and returned it with such brainy captions like `No Non-sense Cream’ And the most you can do is to say “Maam! It can be made a little better.” Worked for hours to make it a little better and then waited to receive a big bold rejection with more stupid ideas on their way. It is unfair to say that all clients were that insensible. Some were quiet understanding and clear-headed, thus sound information and clear brief always helped in producing creatively and commercially successful campaigns.
Generally an advertising agency comprises of three departments:
Creative that includes Copy (you can take it in its literal meaning) and Art Department which is generally called Studio and Audio-Visual Section. They are responsible for making the words sing; pictures speak, and develop ideas bigger than life to sell a product or a service.
Client Service is there to bring and deal with the clients, get briefs and instructions from the companies and convey it to the creative people. Besides they also do budgeting and ensure that dates and jobs are on line (if the agency doesn’t have a separate Traffic Dept. for that purpose). These people should be masters in pushing, pulling, manipulating, delaying, lying, blaming and any other qualities you may think required for a lawyer or a politician.
Media Dept. is there to buy space and air time for their clientele and ensure proper and timely appearance of ads in media. Above all, there is Management to look after all the profit and non-profit matters. Ideally all these departments of an ad agency are to work with mutual coordination and support. But practically things are not much different here from any other work field in the country.
Everyone has his/her interests other than the agency, some writing as free-lancers, and others as artists and graphic designers for the companies that hired them privately and rest in private productions. Senior people in the creative department openly cheated and delayed the work for which they drew high salaries. Often they put all burden on juniors and blamed them for mishaps and delays. So if you want to work in an ad agency, prepare yourself for professional politics, seniors’ ragra and quite often disgusted and demoralizing attitude that can easily dishearten any new comer. However, the smaller the set up of an agency, the more chance you get to prove yourself. Your test is to pass through this initial trying period and then your talent will speak of itself if you have potential.
It will be an exaggeration to say that working in an ad agency is all work and no play affair. During immense work load, we were able to fetch some fun time to celebrate birthdays, arranged combined lunches, free chats on fashion, show-biz and of-course gossips. But quite often, we had to miss our meals and even prayers to complete the task at time. Uncertainty in the flow of work is always disturbing for a disciplined person as you can’t schedule your jobs. Sometimes you have nothing to do while at other times you can’t even breathe for a second. The worst aspect of an advertising job is its odd timings (in fact no timings at all).You can’t avoid late stays in an ad agency because mostly there are deadlines to meet.
On the basis of the short exposure to the advertising world in Pakistan, I can certainly say that it has no clear direction. Sometimes we were following Indian TV commercial, sometimes copying lines and captions from the ads appeared in foreign magazines and newspapers. Stealing concepts and taking entire images and layouts has become a routine. Even some very senior and known copy writers and art directors don’t hesitate in lifting foreign ideas and are unable to differentiate between inspiration and cheating.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Pakistani ads lack both originality and creativity, though not the sole one. One major factor is that advertising industry is largely dominated by business-minded people who are only interested in selling their products through hard sale approach and cheap old tactics. They want to spend least, get most in minimum time and have hardly any concern or sense of good advertising. So they, as clients and as owners of ad agencies never give their writers and artists that freedom and confidence which is indispensable for creative brilliance.
Advertising is effectively used in modern and even in some of the third world countries for development purposes alongside the commercial motives. But in my six months advertising career, I hardly see one such campaign for a welfare health organization which was constantly delayed for one reason or the other since it didn’t have any account. The aching feeling of emptiness and discontentment that rose from doing something purposeless haunted me every night as I went to bed. It was the core reason that made me leave the glamorous world of advertising which had no glamour for me anymore.
But it doesn’t mean that you will have the same experience. If you are a good writer, competent artist, graphic designer, computer personnel, visualiser or a public relation person, try your luck here. You may find it glamorous as it is one of the highly paid profession in the country, however, more suitable for the money-minded people. People looking for creative satisfaction and inner contentment can hardly enjoy the lust and lights of the advertising world for long.