What if there was a blanket ban on advertisements in Pakistan?

Published: June 17, 2014

Since Pakistanis have lesser money to spend, lesser advertising would definitely lead to lesser prices.

Everywhere we turn, all we see is advertising; on the television, the radio, newspapers, magazines and social media. What with all the hoardings everywhere, buildings are no longer recognisable. Motorists are continuously bombarded with blown up images of different products and photoshopped models, trying to get them to pay attention to what they’re selling instead of what is on the road in front of them.

And just when we began to think that the giant, teetering, 3D monstrosities on our billboards were the limit, advertisements started to grow, like mushrooms, on green belts, dividers and roundabouts, and hang like bats from street lights.

You would expect that, with all the competition, advertisers might be a little more creative. But all ads follow the same boring formats with the same cheesy lines. You have the housewife adverts for cleaning products, the music video commercials for eatables, the ‘this-is-how-the-upper-class-lives’ adverts for gadgets and appliances and the wedding/mehndi dance number ads for everything else in between.

Common themes in Pakistani advertisements.

When a particular company does come up with something original, it is immediately copied by other brands, often with limited success. The only thing that competition seems to affect is the budget for these advertisements. Bigger, better and more elaborate sets and costumes are increasingly becoming the norm. Each advert must be longer than the last; it must have the kind of music that could easily win a Grammy and the kind of script that could get it into the Sundance.

While the sheer amount of advertising (about 20 minutes, at least, for every hour of television) is, at the worst, extremely irritating, the biggest loser in all this is you – the consumer. Imagine, for a minute, all the money spent in the creation of these ads, whether in print or other media.

Now, imagine a blanket ban on all advertising.

What will the companies do to attract your attention?

How will they get you to buy their products?

All that capital and nothing to spend it on.

I’ve spent a large part of my childhood in Saudi Arabia, a country with very little space of any kind for advertising. I don’t know how much may have changed now, but eight years ago there were almost no hoardings, a small selection of short adverts on local television and very little space to advertise in print. All of this, you must remember, occurred in a country where people had a lot of money to spend. So companies, literally, had to give things away. Special offers, sales, promotions, free samples, you name it.

It wasn’t just groceries (buy two one-litre tins of powdered milk and get a limited edition branded piece of glassware free, an entire carton of chocolate pudding with a can of cooking oil, six bottles of soft drink for the price of one, not being able to walk down a single aisle without having something delicious offered to you on a stick ); everything from branded clothes to shoes, hand bags and cosmetics could be procured, in seasonal sales, for as little as 75% of the original price.

In Pakistan, where people have lesser money to spend, lesser advertising would definitely bring about an increase in competitive pricing and better quality; at least, maybe not to the extent that I remember, but enough to make our lives a little easier. And television without ad breaks, that are long enough to make you forget what you were actually watching, would be bliss.

Sakina Hassan

Sakina Hassan

The author is currently studying for an Mphil degree at the Centre of Excellence in Solid State Physics.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Saad

    Without ads, television channels would not exist. How do you think all these tv shows and dramas make money? Companies spend so much on ads because it is effective, and the more they show it to you the more it settles down in your subconscious. Come up with the first name that comes to your mind when you think of a soap, washing detergent, tissue, or a shampoo. You came up with these brand names because ads have successfully embedded the brands in you

    Secondly, lesser company ads may not always lead to lesser prices. Companies allocate budgets as per requirement. If not ads, budget might be allocated to sales commissions. That would mean that sales-persons will be banging on your doorstep all the time to sell their products while you are enjoying your ad-free tv shows.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    a very very very cool idea.Recommend

  • ali

    good articles ..i just hate all the ads these days, soo annoying!!!Recommend

  • Muhammad Saim

    Living in Lahore and still complaining of billboards? take a visit to Karachi and specially Clifton and you will know what is “bombardment of billboards”…

    I am all for a blanket ban on advertisement. These are eye sores and billboards are environmentally damaging, they chop off green belts and trees to clear the view to the ugly adds. Shame on big companies like Chevron, Shell, Unilever, Engro and all…who claim to be environmentally responsible but act otherwise.Recommend

  • Ahmed Iqbal

    Oh. That’s why expats returning home are packed with all that “Majjanan” (free) stuff. :-DRecommend

  • Mughees

    Woww !!
    Really a wonderful perspective. Life would be much easier and things would be cheaper.
    However, for that your media industry have to suffer, if people are willing to sacrifice the Sass Bahu drama, then it is quite applicable.Recommend

  • http://www.sharafatalee.com/ garrisonian

    interesting. Good idea.Recommend

  • Prof

    And what happens to the marketing jobs? Any idea how many people you’re trying to put out of business.

    Sure, advertisements need to be regulated.. but a blanket ban is going too far.Recommend

  • Tariq

    Entire business model of TV channels is tied to airtime they sell to companies for ad. Without that, not only advertisement business, but tv channels will also be in lot of trouble.
    BUT, buy 1 get 6 free sounds cool too :)Recommend

  • SamSal

    This is sheer insult to the advertising industry!Recommend

  • Mariam Abbasi

    I agree with the improvement and regulation of Pakistani advertisements, but a blanket ban can never be a good solution as it will effect the marketing jobsRecommend

  • Hashim Ali

    Let’s emulate Saudia in everything! For example, let’s ban whatsapp, women-driving and social media sites. What do you say sister?Recommend

  • Anon

    I have little sympathy for the people working in advertising in Pakistan. Not only is advertising, in itself, an activity in manipulation… and often outright lying, but the guys involved in it in Pakistan do such a pathetic job.

    To me the equivalent of what you are saying is “where will all the poor drug dealers go if we crack down on drugs?”Recommend

  • HBK

    didn’t get the point of what the writer wants to say?
    she doesn’t want advertisement on billboards/hoardings etc but she still wants discounts when she wants to go shopping?!?!?
    advertisement is a means of selling and creating awarenessRecommend

  • sundas

    The trends of advertising in Saudi Arabia can not be compared to those of Pakistan. In Pak advertising has evolved to be a full-fledged industry
    over years which is offering its best and worst both. Advertising is not
    just about informing the potential consumer about the product anymore;
    it is a utility today…and it’s happening in all other democratic
    countries where freedom of speech is served. Yes limiting the time and
    space and regulating the content of advertising is highly a matter to be
    taken into consideration.Recommend

  • AD

    I have also spend 18 years in Saudia and the idea that you have given is very much implementable and it can benefit the society and reduce the pollution of advertisement in term of bill boards, road streamers and all that stuff of useless ads in other form which we confront almost every day in Pakistan.

    There must be some bylaws of advertisement and media which unfortunately, can not be done and always overseen.Recommend

  • Prof

    Advertisement, is protected by the right to free speech. Selling drugs (the illegal kind) isn’t.

    I have not only sympathy, but alot of admiration for the people behind some really great ads such as “Rhythm of Unity” and …. http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/20742/a-trip-down-memory-lane-with-morven-gold-dentonic-and-naz-pan-masala/Recommend

  • Muneeb

    Lady is quite right in regards to KSA, There are very few adverts & hoardings displaying something but still their cities look far organized & modern than ours.

    And yes there are some really good offers that we can avail in just about every season…Recommend

  • Hamza

    Yeah sure, let’s copy Saudi Arabia and put a blanket ban here.
    But then, will you make jobs for all those people employed in marketing? What about university students who are studying marketing?
    Unemployment rate is already quite high and then a thousand…..even more actually….out of jobs because of this ban. What to do about that?
    And I assume you’re annoyance for adverts is also because they interrupt your TV shows. How will these shows and channels run without any adverts? Wondered about that?Recommend

  • Parvez

    Innovative thinking……..the concept that you put forward, is one that I comment about when the opportunity presents itself. I once complained about the very fast increase in the price of packeted milk …..that coincided with the company’s massive advertising blitz …….coupled with the cartel strategy of price fixing because of the limited players. Needless to say my comments were not liked.Recommend

  • Adpran

    The purpose of advertisement is to inform the customers about products that offered by the company. But, there are big companies that have gone far from this main purpose of advertisement. They display their ads not to inform people about their products, but to create image among people that they rule the market. That’s why they display their billboard and other form of outdoor ads in everywhere, as much as they can. And indeed, they have huge budget for this.

    FYI: I’m a businessman and studied in economic faculty.Recommend

  • Parvez

    No its not…..its simply holding up a mirror in front of the industry.Recommend

  • Usman French

    In this country…there is not a single television or print media which could spare its viewers or reader from the pain of extravagant ads.Recommend

  • http://www.chromebrains.com/ Chrome Brains

    It is absolutely true that most of TV ads on Pakistani media are on same pattern, even some times they don’t make sense, for example in biscuit ads why are dancing? it makes sense? to be honest Indian TV commercials are better than Pakistani TV commercials. Now even big brands are feeling that non-sense of TV commercial and they are trying to build attractive, simple and meaningful ads which are help them to get more concentration.Recommend

  • Fawad Shah

    The perception about Pakistani People having no money to spend is a bit spooky, advertisement are the backbone of business, lets not be one-sided and try to see the picture in realityRecommend