‘Imposing India’

By: Sajid Hasan
Published: April 1, 2017
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Advertising pervades everything. It impacts all spheres of society – from individuals and organisations to arts and religion. Propaganda that fuels and incites wars, be it arms for peace or weapons of mass destruction, all begin with a message that first needs to be sold to its intended consumers.

Therefore, to sell any idea you need to advertise. The entire world is inevitably a viable market for the sale of ideas.

Often, the power and efficacy of the campaign determines the success of the product in spite of proof to the contrary. For e.g. soft drinks and junk food, even though their negative health effects are well documented, continue to generate revenue for their multinational owners.

A well-funded and widely disseminated campaign creates the perception that the product being advertised is proof that it is good for you. Any views to the contrary are labelled conspiracy theories propagated by mad hatters and idiots who have too much time on their hands.

The fact that these products are detrimental to one’s health is swept under the carpet. The power of the messaging adorning screens, both big and small, drowns out everything else.

This phenomenon is not only limited to packaged goods. Politics and religion are equally susceptible to its effects. Therefore, the old adage that advertising is 85 percent confusion and 15 percent commission is not far from the truth. The profit motive drives decision making and an advertising agency will confuse the consumer on your behalf without any qualms.

Our response to this excessive belligerence is to continue to support their industries especially their most valuable export – their film industry

The same holds true in the medical profession, particularly regarding major pharmaceutical companies and private hospitals, where the same motive creates perverse incentives. The ones to whom you have entrusted your care are the same ones who do not always have your best interests at heart.

The legal profession is another hazardous area, where lawyers may stretch out cases to increase billing fees.

However, some things are and should always be sacred. Our national interests cannot and should not be governed by the profit motive. A nation’s moral compass is shaped by the collective beliefs, cultural and societal norms of its citizens and its policies are informed by the collective consciousness of its citizens.

Unfortunately, we in Pakistan are at best confused about our national identity and hence tend to be reactionary to events impacting our country.

When the present Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi attempted to exert its hegemony by labelling us a state sponsor of terrorism and banning all things Pakistani in Indian society, it should have made us take stock of the situation and devise a coherent strategy against our ‘neighbour.’

Instead, we continued to meekly engage with our belligerent ‘neighbour’ – the one who very recently talked about abandoning the policy of no first nuclear strike, and a government who continues to antagonise Indian Muslims by appointing Hindu hardliners like Yogi Adityanath to be the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India.

This choice is hardly surprising given that a cloud still hangs over Modi from his stint as chief minister of Gujarat, but there was hope that once he became the premier of the world’s largest democracy, he would tone down his very dangerous rhetoric uttered during the election campaign and be a leader for all Indians.

Instead, not only has he declared an unofficial war on Pakistan, but he has also forged closer ties with the fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) remorselessly.

He has ruthlessly ordered the indiscriminate killing of Kashmiris, meddled in the internal affairs of Pakistan by fomenting rebellion in Balochistan and conspired with the Afghan government to actively destabilise Pakistan. To counter this very dangerous ‘neighbour’ and its venomous propaganda, our only answer is a friendly handshake.

“We want peace with our neighbours” says our shy prime minister. I call him shy because he almost never appears in public or Parliament, until or unless State or personal imperatives compel him to make an appearance.

Our advertising industry is a prime example of perpetuating this policy of appeasement. Our agencies have for years opted to produce advertisements in India

Adding to these woes is the impending water crisis because the Indian premier has declared that “not a drop will we allow”.  By 2025, the water crisis will create a geopolitical crisis that may force our hand for an all-out war with India.

Our response to this excessive belligerence is to continue to support their industries especially their most valuable export – their film industry. Indian content is available in our cinemas and on televisions screens completely unchecked and way beyond the quota allotted.

Their stars sell products to our citizens, while we do nothing to safeguard our and our children’s future and are reluctant to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

Our advertising industry is a prime example of perpetuating this policy of appeasement. Our agencies have for years opted to produce advertisements in India. Compounding their folly, they simply release advertisements with Indian stars when it comes to advertising products for multinationals operating both in India and Pakistan.

This policy comes at the expense of our local industry and devalues Pakistani talent.

Even our state owned Pakistan Television is guilty of running advertisements for products promoted by the likes of Shahrukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, Kajol and a host of known and unknown Indian stars.

We are mortgaging the future of our creative talent pool as the bulk of the work, from conceptualisation to preproduction to production, is all done by Indians. The lion’s share of the budget goes to the Indians, while our agencies are reduced to scheduling and purchasing airtime.

This was not always the case but is a betrayal initiated by our own advertising agencies to lower their “costs”. For most of our history, we relied on the strength of our creative talent pool, harnessed new technologies and continued to improve as a result. But then to cut budgets, some of our powerful advertising agencies started to commission Indians to make advertisements for them using the weak justification that “they are far more professional and much cheaper”.

Gradually, jobs were shipped overseas to India and Thailand. This created a death spiral for the advertising industry as clients caught on to this trend and started to directly bypass Pakistani agencies altogether.

The flight of capital has been totally unchecked, primarily because the prevailing political uncertainty in our country ensures that the real issues are never addressed and the brain drain continues unabated to this day.

Disaster management has never been our forte and neither are preventive measures our priority. This problem has been compounded by the oligopolistic nature of the industry and has wreaked havoc in the lives of those who are supported by this industry.

India wields immense power on account of its sheer size and market potential. For the multinationals, therefore, the choice is simple – they will always favour the Indians. The power that Indian companies have on the advertising world can be gauged by the enormity of their budgets.

We cannot continue on this path of appeasing our belligerent ‘neighbour’ and deny the reality that selling out Pakistan is an existential threat

A global fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) multinational, in India alone, has an advertising budget higher than the entire Pakistani advertising industry combined. Therefore, we will continue to be treated poorly until we stop them and ask for our fair share of the advertising pie.

We, as Pakistanis, need to take control of our future and try to level the playing field by ensuring we achieve parity with India based on the strength of our creative talent.

We cannot continue to put our heads in the sand hoping that this trend will blow over. By looking the other way, we have irreparably tilted the balance in favour of the Indians. However, all is not lost and we can take the following concrete steps to ensure that we put a stop to the erosion of our creative industry:

  • Stop all Indian content on our media channels and monitor content through a federal industry watchdog;
  • Impose heavy penalties in the event of noncompliance on all offenders;
  • Create incentives for our local companies to encourage Pakistani productions;
  • Force multinationals to stop releasing Indian advertisements and use local advertising agencies for indigenous content.
  • Establish institutions to nurture local talent for television and films;
  • Create an atmosphere whereby monopolies are thwarted and a level playing field is given to emerging talent, and;
  • Stop the screening of Indian films.

It is apparent that India doesn’t need us and we certainly can and should survive without them. Self-reliance is in our national interest and safeguards and guarantees a sustainable future for our next generation.

Even if India changes its attitude towards us, these measures are a must if Pakistan is to forge ahead in this very competitive world. Unfortunately, our leaders have been criminally negligent in safeguarding our future. They pander only to their constituencies during an election year and then forget about our nation till the next election cycle.

I firmly believe that we can survive any hardship and overcome any adversity.

We will have to make trade-offs in the short term to ensure that we do not continue to mortgage our future. I hope the powers that be understand the gravity of the situation. We cannot continue on this path of appeasing our belligerent ‘neighbour’ and deny the reality that selling out Pakistan is an existential threat.

About the Author
Sajid Hasan
is a veteran television and film actor and media person. He is working as Executive Vice President at the BOL Media Group and hosts a daily news show 'Breaking Today' at BOL News.