By Sonya Rehman
There’s a billboard on the bridge in Cantonment (Lahore) which features a pink little baby snoozing away on a slice of bread.
The caption reads: “Gifted with softness”. If you haven’t guessed already, the advertisement is for a local bread manufacturer – or…for those who fancy newly born babies (on toast) with a side order of fries and coleslaw.
Advertising in Pakistan can be categorized into three categories; 1.) Ripped off ideas (or blatantly copied) ads from foreign ones, 2.) Good ads with original concepts, and 3.) Boring, insipid ads that would make shooting yourself in the left foot seem like a riot.
The advertising industry in Pakistan is one that has its share of blemishes, but that being stated, it stands as one that is constantly growing – provided Art Directors discontinue slapping babies on toast! Seriously, what were those cannibals thinking?
For the fashion industry, advertising in the local market has now become a true necessity for almost every small-scale (and big-wig) designer, make-up artist, fashion event managers/companies, and so on. If you’re not splashed all over the local press, then it’s ‘ship out and have a fabulous hike dah-ling’ for most involved in the fashion scene.
Therefore, given the necessity of the (now) communal lock between fashion and advertising, a question arises: is fashion in Pakistan being advertised properly? Some would subscribe to the notion that it isn’t – that too much emphasis is placed on the styling, the hair, the make-up, the accessories, the back-drop, the colour scheme of the ad, the font size/text and so on and so forth.
Too messy, some would state, so much so that it takes the viewer’s attention away from the clothes and onto other things featured in the elaborate layout. But let’s not make any generalizations because there are a lot of ads out there which really manage to bring out the designer’s clothes, which can leave viewer’s gobsmacked.
Fashion, at times, warrants using the ‘shock and awe’ strategy. Hey, it’s fashion not thermal underwear. Therefore fashion the world-over has and always will remain unapologetic for its plethora of idiosyncrasies.
Remember the print ads and billboards which featured model Aamminah Haq all wrapped up and cozy in solely ties – courtesy designer Ammar Belal’s men’s line? At first glance one would be prompted to say ‘Mama Mia’, but at second glance, one would think; ‘How weird, why wrap a female model up in men’s ties when the ad can feature male models donning suits and the ties?’
But see, here’s the thing; the aforementioned ad is one fine example of the ‘shock and awe’ strategy.
And hey you know what? It works. It manages to convey the designer’s attitude vis-à-vis his clothes, and in addition it gives interested buyers a message that the clothes convey a certain lifestyle and personality type. One that is fun, spunky and risqué – and has nothing to do with wrapping women up with ties (don’t get any ideas).
On the OTHER hand, some fashion print ads can be particularly asinine. Such as models floating underwater holding purses or swishing about their designer garb whilst looking like terrified goldfish. Ads like that don’t make head or tail. I mean, what’s the designer or the creative dude behind the ad trying to put across? It’s not like any woman out there (while flipping through a fashion glossy) would exclaim (as she comes across the ad) in excitement wishing that she too could swish about dramatically 10 feet deep in a tank of water!
And just as blatant copying/plagiarism exists in advertising – no matter which product is being advertised – some local fashion shoots and print ads are too, ripped off from international glossies such as Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, etc. At times, there really seems to be a serious dearth of both creativity and originality in both the local fashion and advertising industries.
On a totally different tangent (yet remaining within the fashion/advertising issue at hand), it is also said that certain local publications approach certain well-established designers for interviews and only let them go into print with the bargain of getting an ad in return from the designers. Therefore the question here arises is: how much support do our local designers really get from the local print media in terms of publicity?
“A lot of the content that you see in these fashion publications is planned according to the likes of the designers/make-up artists who regularly buy advertising space in a magazine”, Anum Pasha a twenty-something fashion journalist states, “This can be anything from a cover story to a one-paragraph mini feature. Very few fashion magazines will have an unbiased approach towards fashion. As it is in the fashion industry itself that backbiting, and the ‘I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-my-back’ phenomenon are common elements, a lot of fashion journalists are bombarded with pleas, favours, threats, and so on. Thus, coverage carries a huge element of bias in Pakistan.”
That’s a pretty interesting spin on the entire subject wouldn’t you agree? So while some publications may ‘blackmail’ designers to buy advertising space in their rag-mags with promises of promotion, designers too wind up wining and dining editors of these very publications to get coverage, publicity, support and yes – a sugary dollop of favouritism.
I’ve seen it happen – up close and personal. Therefore, at the end of the day it really all is a two-way street. Fashion and advertising is not as black and white as you may think it is – it can be shady, vibrant and dubious all at once.
In the words of reputed ad-man, Leo Burnett: “I am one who believes that one of the greatest dangers of advertising is not that of misleading people, but that of boring them to death”, and, “Fun without sell gets nowhere but sell without fun tends to become obnoxious.” So very true, especially when advertisers and designers consider over the top ad themes as ‘mod-run’ and ‘new-age’ by placing babies on toast and models in water tanks!