By Irfan Bukhari –
Arsalan Hashmi is heir to the legacy of legendary S.H. Hashmi, who founded Orient 55 years ago and nurtured it become the best in business in this country by a distance. Now with its gross billing at over Rs2 billion a year, Orient continues to flourish and scale new heights – having hegemony over the title of ‘the largest advertising agency in Pakistan’ for 18 years on the bounce.
A graduate of the Exeter School of Business, Arsalan Hashmi is presently chief operating officer of Orient. Building brands and powering businesses, as he proudly narrates, comes naturally to him.
In this interview with Pique, he talks about the business of advertising, the brands he and his rival companies have created, the power print still holds despite the recent preponderance of first electronic and now digital media.
How do you evaluate the overall drift of business in this country? Has the worst part of the recession over and do you see things changing for the better? From an advertising man’s perspective, do you see signs of the economy picking up?
Our country has been in turmoil since a decade now and we have had some good and some bad years nonetheless, the Pakistani business community has been aggressive and determined to beat the odds.
As a marketing professional, I believe that advertising activity in a country is a mirror to its economy. Unfortunately, Pakistan does not have as many local brands as a country of its caliber should and international companies, that are investing billions into their brand building, mainly dominate the market.
In the past, there was a time when we only saw telecommunication advertising dominate the media and today the handsets and handheld devices have just as much promotion. I also don’t remember women’s lawn brands being so heavily advertised 10 years ago, in fact, they weren’t advertised at all but now they have flooded the market!
These are great signs of strong economic activity in the country.
However, there are certain industries that have little or no activity. That of course is upsetting but we hope for the best and strive to make the future better!
In your opinion, how far is the Pakistani advertising industry from achieving the same level of excellence in building brands and images of people and entities as say the post-modern advertising agencies of the West or a highly developed Indian industry? Where do we stand?
We are a complicated industry and have yet to form formal regulatory bodies to safeguard our interest. We are cannibalizing ourselves, and that fact is most worrying to me. The focus is more towards giving clients what they want over what they need. As an agency head, I believe heavily in research and consumer insights, but we don’t have the time to get that data. The recent rise of young business heads has promoted the desire for distinction and risk. Clients need to understand the need of investment in a brand and set eyes on a mid- to long term target.
I consider Q-Mobile an inspiration, a brand we worked on and launched in Pakistan. They were and are determined to invest on their brand and fight international competition, which should be a lesson for other local brands. Some other brands like Shaan, National, EBM, CBL and Tapal are doing great work, which makes us proud as Pakistanis.
So where we stand currently is a puzzling question. Sometimes we produce work that is brilliant and sometimes we completely miss the target.
In my opinion, the quality of advertising has deteriorated over the years; it was much better 15 years ago. However, it’s my aim to do and encourage fine work because as advertising people, we strive on creativity and results. Building brands is a passion that comes to me naturally and I want to negate the Indian comparison and build an identity of our own.
With the advertising in the print medium across the board – newspapers, magazines etc. – experiencing a reduction in volume across the world, with perhaps India being an exception, do you think print as a medium shall sustain especially when it is additionally burdened by the ever-rising cost of inputs? What about Pakistan?
This year we have seen the increase in the overall adex of print mainly because of elections. This is proof that print still holds power in advertising. I believe the absence of the right tools has made the print industry in the shape it currently is in. Looking at international markets like Denmark, the UAE and other countries, print is the primary medium in those markets, which again proves the fact that print, if used correctly, can add value to the bottom line of any brand.
With digital advertising most likely to rise as a consequence of getting a far greater number of eyeballs, is Pakistani advertising industry geared toward making a foray and sustain the proliferating web publications?
The current digital landscape of Pakistan is most certainly on the rise. If we look at the increase of advertisers’ interest in this medium, we can easily judge that digital is the next battleground for advertisers. Nonetheless digital is still far behind in the overall adex, which eventually will increase in times to come but it will depend a lot on the internet penetration, literacy rate etc.
Which to you is the most stunning copy/visual that your agency has created in recent times?
Our most recent TVC is for the Dany Genius Tab featuring Wasim Akram as the brand ambassador. I particularly enjoyed working on this project as it was the launch of a new product in a highly competitive industry. We consider ourselves specialist in the handset category, having working on Q-Mobile and Nokia previously. Hence doing something unique to break through the prevailing clutter in the handset industry was fun. Alhamdulillah, the response we got was overwhelming, both in terms of product sales and appreciation for the creative. To get the impact, we had to show with the personal life of Wasim Akram and how our product plays a vital role in the celebrity’s daily life, behind all the glamour and glitter.
And which to you is the most stunning copy/visual that a rival agency created to which you instinctively said, wow?
I loved the 7-Up Campaign. Thought the concept was your typical slice of life, however the execution and jingle was extremely well done. The copy writer who wrote the jingle, I would personally like to congratulate him. In response, Sprite did a good job as well, and their outdoor/print designs were very well done.
Most recently I was a TVC online for TPL Insurance, and absolutely loved the concept and execution. Full marks to the advertising team, and I have much respect for the client for having the vision to carry it through. This shows if the client encourages the agency, we in Pakistan can produce good work.