Friday, December 12, 2008
The JP-AL drama is over (at least this round); manajat at Shahjalal Mazaars are done; election manifesto has been announced on live TV; candidate lists finalised and CTG thrashed on Tritio Matra! The campaigns have started and in about 17 days we will have an election 26 months in the making.
Going into the elections I believe the conventional wisdom puts AL as the front-runner. But I have a different angle to this. BNP is not as weak as they are thought to be. Now that Ershad has decided to stay with the Mohajoth (a wise decision on his part) this election has boiled down to a head to head between AL vs. BNP. If we take the premise that a typical swing constituency in Bangladesh has about a 40% AL vote and the victory is secured by how the remaining 60% is divided, BNP is in a comfortable position indeed.
The Mohajoth deal will give JP, I calculate 10-15 extra seats. But I don’t think we can trust Ershad to be a man of his words. He will always be a joker in the pack and will horse-trade his MPs after the elections to find the best deal.
Another googly in the game is how rebel candidates will do in the polls. AL has got its fair share this time (usually not the case) as has BNP. End of the day these candidates will shape the outcome to a great degree.
As difficult as it might be, no armchair political analyst should get by without a prediction on the election outcome. So here is mine:
AL + allies (– JP) 120-130
BNP + JI 135-145 (JI being about 15-20)
Bilakpa Dhara + allies 2
Independent + Others 7-10
And if I am right the next prediction I’d venture to make is that Ershad will jump ship after the election and support a Khaleda Zia cabinet in exchange for the Presidency.
But hope you’ll allow me to create one little caveat for myself. Till today Sylhet 1 constituency has been a bell weather seat. It has always elected the winner. This year two finance minister hopeful are in contention for that seat. Sylhet 1 map has been redrawn leaving the BNP favouring Companyganj out, resulting in a very tight race. Having visited there over the Eid holidays I tend to think that seat is leaning AL’s MA Muhit’s way. Only way Saifur Rahman can win it is if he pulls sympathy votes (being old and having a son in prison) by staying home and allowing his arch-rival Illiyas Ali to bring in the votes. (In exchange for vacating the seat to an Illiyas supporter in the by-elections)
This will no doubt be an interesting election to watch. There is going to be enough drama over the next few months to keep us all in business!
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Standing at just one month to E-day one surely needs to ask the question "Why?"
Well let's see who benefits and who doesn't. And then try to work out who will want the elections and who will pull out all the stops to ensure it doesn't go through.
Here are the usual suspects:
The Caretaker Government (CTG): I think without a shadow of a doubt they want this election. I have a feeling that they have now just given up their "experimentation" of trying to re-engineer Bangladesh's political landscape. One botched attempt after and another showed to all and sundry that the powers that be do not have the political suaveness that would have allowed them to pull it through. Their political naivety ensured that today two years down the road, we are exactly where we were. What a wasted opportunity.
The Army: Conventional wisdom is that they (or atleast the top ranks) still call the shots and have always been keen to see polls and hand over at the earliest. Given the current situation and the several changes in the top echelon of the Armed Forces (side-lining many of the original players!) they have lost the plot. The leaders there do not see any benefit of sticking around longer. If they did, there were plenty of scenarios through which they could have delayed the dates significantly. General Moeen has pledge to the world that he wants the poll by the end of the year and as a man of his words, he will want it to happen. But, and a big but, it will be wrong to think of them as one cohesive unit. I am sure there will be elements within, specially amongst the rank and file who will think the reasons given for the takeover of 1/11 have not been fulfilled and will want to see it through to the end.
The EC: Of course they want it. They never were one who got into the political maneuverings that were hallmark over the last two years. I think they were honest in their purpose and went on a straight line towards their mandate of holding the polls at the end of the year. Yes they did put in reforms, but that was with the intention of making the process smooth. And do remember, unlike the CTG, the Election Commissioners do stick around after the polls.
The AL: They are sure of their victory. The only question that might be in their heads is, by what margin. The Bangla saying “gaachay kaathal gophey tell” (the equivalent English idiom being “counting ones chickens before they hatch”) is very apt for them. Top AL leaders have already started taking their position as the government in waiting. I say a bit premature and a lot overestimated but a victory all the same.
The BNP: This bunch knows that the chance of them coming to power are, at best, slim. They are unorganized, under funded, under manned and in a total disarray with political infighting in almost all districts. A lot of their leaders are in jail and many are on the run. With their bank accounts under watch, it will be very difficult for them to come up with a war chest that will allow them to win. The fact that they still haven’t finalized (some say even started on) their candidate list is a telling sign of what they think is the likelihood of the polls happening on schedule. Matter of fact the Begum in the first jonoshobha (public meeting) has gone on record saying that she, and hence BNP, does not believe the polls will be free or fair. She even presented a list of seven demands which if not met will result in them boycotting the elections. We all know that without the BNP (or for that matter AL) the elections will be meaning less.
The Jamaat: these boys are the sharpest, most organized group in the nation. Over the last two years while others crumbled, Jamaat used the time to re-group and strengthen their base. Being out of power allowed them to tighten the herd around a common enemy. At the same time they have been successful in stopping the loss to other hard(er)-line Islamist parties. Do they want the polls then? No! They have no chance of winning out-right. They know that. And they also know their alliance partners are not strong enough to win either. They know an AL victory will mean a witch-hunt against their leadership. War crimes, corruption, under-wrap business practices will all be fodder for the AL dominated Parliament. They don’t want that. So not having an election means that while they are not in power, neither is the AL. Lesser of the evils is an easy choice for them.
The Others: Jatiya Party, Bilkapa Dhara and the likes, know that wanting the polls is the best bet they have got. Firstly they appear democratic and have “face” in front of the foreign ambassadors. (Come on after all no one but our overseas friends give these parties any importance) But secondly (and more importantly) they know what they say or do will not change anything an iota. Election is after all good for them. Especially if the BNP does not contest and elections do go ahead, then they pick up a lot of the otherwise BNP seats. They can even hope to attract a large chunk of the BNP potential candidates who will look at self-interest before that of party directives. If they can swing say 85-100 seats that wouldn’t go to AL they become a voice with some legitimacy. On the other hand if the BNP does go to polls I am sure they will join the AL lead alliance into a Mohajote (Grand Alliance). Again contesting the 100 or so seats that AL never wins. Using AL’s small but loyal vote base in these constituencies and by picking popular locally strong candidates, they should be able to wrestle a large chunk of the BNP seats. Elections are win-win for them.
The Others II: Then there are another bunch of small political parties, mostly Frankenstein’s monsters (though that would be giving them too much credit) created over the last two years. They don’t want to go to polls. Even after all the help in the world they will not be able to score on an empty goalpost. For them Elections mean that their façade will come off. The airtime on talk shows that they enjoy now will disappear. For them the upside is that the elections don’t happen and they end up wiggling themselves on to a National Unity Government of sorts.
The Foreign Friends: I will be surprised if they are even awake. Most of the players during those days after 1/11 are long gone. Replaced in most cases by career bureaucrats. Their knee jerk reaction is that Elections equal democracy. Hence there should be a transfer of power by end of the year. Anything else they will not be able to justify back home. But then who is bothered in Washington, London, New York or Brussels? The World Financial Crisis, two Wars, domestic power struggles mean that Bangladesh is off the radar. Other than to say “Elections equal democracy” I don’t think they will do much. Exception to this is our closest neighbours – the Indians. Over the last two years they have seen a series of terrorist bombings, which they have blamed on Islamist terrorists trained and supplied from Bangladesh. If political uncertainty continues no one is around to crack down on these fundamentalists. On the other hand they would be quite right to believe that an AL government will be open to clamping down on these groups.
The Business Community: Uncertainty is never good for business. Only thing worse is the CTG. Without a plan or an understanding of how business operates this Government has hurt business. Matter of fact it has brought the economy to its knees, gasping for breath. The business community knows at more of the same means an inevitable collapse. For them anyone else is better. The new government doesn’t have to be clean, nor do they have to have a large mandate, as long as they leave business to it’s own devices, they will be happy.
The Media: Well either way I believe their business sense says they will win. But being our conscious, they are more than the bottom lines for their owners. The media in Bangladesh is usually free, fair and not shy to speak their mind. It will be difficult to generalize their attitude. One group lead by a less than prominent English daily and few of the political mouthpieces has openly and vocally criticised the CTG. They will want the elections (barring I guess the BNP papers!). Then there will be a group who will say they want the elections but certain obligations need to be met before hand. In any case I do not see the majority supporting any elections where either of the big political parties boycott.
The General Public: Stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea! The euphoria of 1/11 is long gone. To them CTG and the last two years means nothing other than spiraling costs, loss of jobs and an uncertain future. Worst is that the last two years of wasted opportunity means that the appetite for political change is gone. I am afraid they will want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. By rightly blaming this CTG’s ineptness they will wrongly say reforms don’t work. They will as always be optimistic in their hope that political leadership has reformed and will deliver them to the promised land. At the very least, they believe that the excesses of previous political will be stemmed or will take a while to restart. People want elections but they are not excited about it. Amongst Dhaka’s talking class there seems to be this resignation to the fact elections will not happen, or even if it does, nothing will change. Even people in the know within both parties are confessing to this off the record. And amongst the masses out in the districts, there isn’t any palpable enthusiasm about the upcoming elections. The excitements of a political race are missing. The promised devolution of power hasn’t happened and the CTG has already compromised by delaying the Upazilla elections after the National polls. This is on top of the fact that the elation of having MP candidates sent up from grassroots has turned out to be a farce. Only thing that both AL and BNP seems to agree on is that leaders despite being convicted, charged or on the run should be allowed to contest. Is there such a lack of leadership in the grassroots that in a country of 160 million we can’t find 600 people who don’t have a criminal record?
The Me: I am basically a believer in democracy. But in those days of October 2006, I was amongst many who found themselves in a bit of a quandary. We didn’t want elections. And that was because we didn’t equate democracy to an election. We knew we needed to take a hard look at our constitutional framework, political systems and institutional structures before we could truly call ourselves a working democracy. We embarked with zeal and enthusiasm down a path that we had hoped would bring us a stronger, more inclusive, more tolerant and, simply, a better society. We not only stumbled and hit roadblocks, we soon realized we didn’t have the map in the first place and the guide we chose never knew the path himself nor was keen to learn. Now we stand somewhere in the jungle, knowing that Shangri-La is out there but don’t know how to get there. Night is upon us. And there are hungry wild creatures nearby. And our traveling companions are cannibals!
To come back to my original question, will elections happen on 18th December 2008? Well in the above bishlaychon it seems that all stakeholders of significance but BNP-Jamaat Alliance wants the poll. But in our confrontational I-am-always-right politics, the sword (hartal and bhangchur) is mightier than the pen (tipshoi). The greater good of the nation is only a minor obstacle to ones self preservation. If the BNP (or on the flip side AL earlier) does not want something, it doesn't happen. Hence the answer to the million dollar question is a resounding a "No!" Care to wager on that?
Sunday, October 19, 2008
I hate to blow my own trumpet~ Well actually not! so here goes... I received a Brand Leadership Award at the recently concluded 17th Asian Brand Congress!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has helped me learn advertising and branding and also lessons in life. Foremost of whom is my mother and boss - Geeteara Safiya Choudhury (or as I call her at work - Madam). Also to all my colleagues in Adcomm past and present over the last 14 years who have encouraged and supported me. And lastly but not least, to my clients who have put up with me and allowed me a little part in contributing towards their precious brands.
Below is the press release that Adcomm put out to report the Award win:
Bangladeshi Advertising Man Wins Asian Recognition
Nazim Farhan Choudhury the Deputy Managing Director of Adcomm Limited was presented the Brand Leadership Award during the recently concluded 17th Asia Brand Congress that was held at the Taj Land’s End Hotel in Mumbai, India. This was in recognition of the contribution Mr. Choudhury has made in practicing and promoting the brand building discipline in Bangladesh. “It is an acknowledgement that Bangladesh’s advertising industry has come of age,” said Dr. Bhatia, the convenor of the event.
“The awareness of Brand building is growing in the country. Business are now mindful that one of their greatest assets are the brands that they own and are now beginning to invest behind them,” said Mr. Choudhury. “I believe that this trend will only continue on its upward trend, even during difficult economic times. After all, a brand’s strength is what sees a business through during times like this.”
The Asia Brand Award is an annual gathering of the leading Brand marketers from the Asian region. This year saw two days of great sessions that included stalwarts like Barney Loenhis of Isobar, Dr. Dae Ryun Cheng of Yonsei University, Ian Gee of Initiative Media, Josy Paul of BBDO, K V Srinivasan of Reliance, R. Balakrishnan of Lowe, Ravi Deshpande of Contract, Sanjay Behl of Reliance Communication and Sunil Lulla amongst many others. While Times Now, Reliance Consumer Finance and Airtel, sponsored the Congress, the Brand Leadership Award was promoted by Yahoo!
Adcomm Limited is one of the leading advertising and communication agencies in Bangladesh with an impeccable reputation of building strong Bangladeshi Brands. Mr Choudhury has spent 14 years in the agency working on 8 of the top 20 Best Bangladeshi Brands of 2008.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Bangladesh’s advertising industry started even before there was a Bangladesh. Mr. Enayet Karim’s Interspan (Interspeed these days) or Mr. Reza Ali’s Bitopi, were making a mark for themselves in the Pakistan times. Those days the advertisements in TV was limited to only a few ads of Habib or Grindlay’s Bank that were shot in West Pakistan but broadcast here. But there was an interesting experimentation in those days, in which, PTV used to run a soap opera called “Ghoroa” where brands were weaved into the story line. Talk about early product placements! Outside of this, TV commercials were, by and large, limited to some telope ads (akin to showing a PowerPoint presentation) during the Eid festivals. It was only the late 70s that saw the regular appearance of motion picture TVCs. Colour ads however did not come in till the early 80s. It was about that time that competition between brands began to break out. Peps Gel vs. Close-Up was the first big advertising match up. This was an eye-opener for the business world. Consumers now had a choice, and they were exercising it. It was not acceptable any more that products were simply made available. Marketers needed to give a compelling reason to the consumers to buy their products. Be it the mouthwash in Close-Up or the great strong smile of Peps Gel, consumer benefit had to be articulated. It is difficult to say who won. I guess both sides claim victory. In the mid 90s after a decade of David vs. Goliath battle, Unilever eventually bought out those brands from the smaller Fisons. This was the time when the big advertising agencies, Asiatic (East Asiatic at that time) and Adcomm, came into maturity.
1990s saw the emergence of a new style of advertising. With Colour Zone and Pearson, Afzal Hossain’s Mattra broke into the scene. Though a vast majority of the advertisements were still being produced in India Mr. Hossain became the director of choice, shooting a string of highly popular commercials. Advertising agencies were lining up to get him to shoot. Unfortunately all the hype had a draw back. While the ads were attractive, star cast affairs (that was the time Mou, Bipasha, Nobel and the other celebrity models started to emerge), they were beginning to look alike. We had great looking ads that were a part of everybody’s conversations coming out one after the other, but frankly, they failed to connect. People loved the new sari or a jewellery ad but forgot which brand it was advertising. They began to say things like “I love Mousumi’s sari ad” and in reality while they found the ad compelling, brands were not getting built.
The late 90s saw another phenomena. International advertising agencies compelled by their worldwide multinational client were tying up with Bangladeshi advertising agencies. JWT, Ogilvy, Lintas, DDB, Bates, McCann, Leo Burnett all signed up affiliation agreements with the local big guns. Overnight we saw our billings hit previously unimaginable figures. I still remember, a figure that we quoted as the total advertising market size in 1994 was smaller than my agencies billing in 2000. This sort of investments by clients led to agencies being accountable for the performance of brands in their custody. BAT, Unilever and the likes regularly monitored consumer’s feedback on, amongst other things, brand perceptions and loyalty. Advertising agencies were made to sit through research after research of brand health checks. This, along with the inputs and training the international agency networks were putting in, meant Bangladesh’s advertising industry was forced to coming of age. Since the beginning of this decade it was not good enough just to produce good-looking ads. There had to be a method to our madness. We needed to find an insight, and then build a communication around it. When I first joined advertising, I actually had a client giving me an Indian commercial and saying “amakay ai rokom akta boi baniya dan” (make me a “book” like this). Not anymore. Now I have to justify every aspect of a proposed storyboard even before we call a Pre-Production meeting. Life has become tougher, but now we can say we are building brands.
These days I spend a good part of the month looking through all the ads that have been released recently to decide on which ads to review on the Bangladesh Brand Forum’s magazine. That has helped me to get a broader perspective on how TVCs are evolving in the country. I must report that I am generally happy with the trend. Things are looking so much better thought out and professional than they did when I joined the industry some 14 years back. (Has it been that long already?). Of course there are a few brain numbingly bad ads, but that happens across the world. If you actually look at ads in the more developed markets, for every Cannes Lion winner, you will see ten Used Car Lemon Ads with the owner of some car dealership shouting into the camera on why he is the honest deal! Do this experiment, sit through any two hour slot on an Indian satellite channel like Zee Movies and mark the ads you see in two columns, those you like and those you don’t. My bet is that the latter column will outweigh the former by a factor of at least 2. The industry here is not an exception. But if you follow the ads you will see that a lot of ads are now making the effort. That some thought has gone behind finding the right insights. More than just making the ads look good, they are trying to reach out to the consumers and connect. This is the definitive sign that things are to change. There are ads that are not only building brands but also categories. The Banglalink “Deen bodol” or grameenphone’s “Ma” reach beyond just saying “buy me” to a level where it burns the brand into the consumer psyche.
Unfortunately we often mistake popular ads to be equal to successful advertising. I know I’m opening up a can of worms here. The debate worldwide in the advertising world often pivots around this point itself. Do award-winning ads sell products? Well, there are strong points on both sides of the debate. Now we even have “effectiveness awards”. And a Bangladeshi agency actually won an Asia wide effectiveness award recently. But then, how can we attribute only the advertising to the sales efficiency? In case of the Bangladeshi award, how can we not ask if the distribution got better, or if the regulations helped to stem grey market mobile set imports? This debate will continue. But the point I will make is that just a flash in the pan wonderful advertising does not necessarily mean the brand connects are there. As a matter of fact also, just because there is a consumer-connect does not mean that advertisement is remembered. In the long run brands, and their ads, that do both - that is, find an insight and execute it to a level higher than mere consumer acceptance - are the really successful brands. And ads. Bangladesh’s soap market has wonderful example of this point. In the mid 90s, Lux was ruling supreme. Unilever (Lever Brothers at that time) was complacent. I believe they took their eyes off the ball. Aromatic latched in with a superb insight – Halal soap! Those things flew off the shelves. Interestingly it had the same ingredients as Lux, which is to say that if it was possible for a soap to be halal, then Lux was, too! I remember seeing some research in the late 90s where consumers said that they first tried Aromatic because of the halal hook but stayed on because it was actually a better soap. In all this mayhem of the soap wars, which one of us can recall the Aromatic Gold ad? But when it comes to Lux, who can forget Shuborna Mostafa, Shomi Kaiser or Bipasa’s Lux star TVCs? Interestingly some of the soap ads with the most buzz was not from Lux but from Camellia and Keya Super Lemon Soap. But where are those brands of “great” ads? Both Aromatic and Camellia have been sold to the Indian multinational Marico. But Lux is still around not only because they upgraded their products and made ads that consumers have enjoyed, but also because they found the consumer connects. They moved into an insight where Lux offered the consumer a chance to become a star, like the models. And that sold. Lux today is back in their supreme position. They rightly showed the advertising world that the role of advertising today is not only to entertain or to inform, but also to make sure that consumers are at the heart of all brand development efforts. This makes the difference between a good-looking ad and an effective ad.
I don’t have a crystal ball to predict what will happen to TVCs in the future. Worldwide trends indicate the days of the 30 second spot to be numbered. I tend to disagree slightly with that. Yes, communication needs to, and will, have a more 360-degree perspective and reach, but I think TVCs will still form the core of our media buy well into the foreseeable future. However I believe there will some distinct shifts.
Firstly, user generated content will begin to be more apparent. I don’t know if you have ever gone into YouTube and typed in Bangladeshi advertising, but if you have, then you will see many mock ads that have been made by the average Jasim. And with video technology on mobile phone getting cheaper, and of better quality, as well as with infiltration of broadband, it is a matter of time that the role of marketing manager will change. Brand communication will move from being one way (i.e., from the client / agency to the viewer / consumer) to a multi-channel one, where consumer groups will start sharing not only peer reviews but also actual user generated content between themselves. This is inevitable. Unfortunately our industry has not understood that this will come sooner than we anticipate. If advertising agencies and brands are not ready for this revolution, then the consumers will simply disregard us and go on to mould brands themselves They will give them personality, values and shape that might not be in the best interest of the longevity of the brand. Without our supervision of the process brand owners will soon find out that they no longer are in control of their most valuable asset.
Secondly, I believe this is the time for local brands to establish themselves. Multinational companies, through their effort to find efficiencies of scale in the name of regionalisation, are beginning to give up unique local insights in favour of those that work over a regional audience. But all of us know that a Bangladeshi doesn’t think like a West Bengali, forget like a Tamil or a Thai. Local brands need to exploit this opportunity thrown up by MNCs. They not only can start owning these positions, but also use their dexterity to make faster decisions and their local market knowledge to drive it home to the consumers. In recent years the carbonated beverage brand Mojo has shown that by doing things that are tuned to consumer’s needs, rather than aping previously successful cola brands, a huge brand can be built. I believe it is a matter of time before Bangladeshi brands start leveraging local success into international triumph.
Last but not least, clients will stop looking at advertising as a cost; rather they will see it as an investment. A brand’s television advertising will hopefully not have to endure poor production quality anymore. By ensuring that a TVC not only has a relevant insight, but also an adequate attention to details, the extra taka put into the making of the TVC is offset by lower media expenditure. This will lead to better production facilities, more professional services and an overall improvement of quality of our product.
At the end I am reminded of something the illustrious advertising practitioner Bill Bernbach of DDB had said, “Good advertising builds sales. Great advertising builds factories.” Looking at Bangladeshi advertising’s evolution I think that this is good news for people who build factories.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
One of my favourite ads in the last few years has been the Vodafone India’s Customer Care series. You know, the ones with the dog and the girl. I always found it ingenious how Hutch (the predecessors to Vodafone) had initially introduced the dog (a pug) during an ad to talk about network coverage and then adopted him as a mascot. I was sure that when Vodafone took over the network they would kill off the dog (it was a casting issue as well, since the original dog actor was getting old and a replacement was proving difficult to find). But, to my utter joy, they not only found a new mutt but also used a girl in the series of ads for the customer care function. The dog, representing the customer care, helps the “subscriber” who goes through the day nonchalantly needing subtle interventions. Like the original network ad, it showed how the relation between the two intertwines without need to call out for help. Brilliant. And a very hard act to follow no doubt. Two of our own telephone operators were brave enough to attempt it.
grameenphone customer care: I like the insight. It is simple. The gp customer care operators are “one-of-us” and hence they know exactly what we need and are there to help. After all if your grandson or shali were the customer care person you’d never have problems solving a, well, problem! It’s one of those undeniable Bengali traits; we look out for a family member or a friend whenever we need a problem solved. You know I’ve been asked so many times if I know anyone at a hospital or an airline or a bank who can help out with that little issue that has cropped up. It’s the need to have that inside track to things. Primarily this grew from the failure of businesses in Bangladesh to focus on customer care and therefore needing to rely on “contacts” to get issues resolved. gp has addressed it effectively. They basically turned to their customers and have said, “hey look, our care service is staffed by people just like you and hence your problems are our problems.” Given gp’s large pool of customer care associates, it so believable.
Here is where I start having problems with the ads. The stories are so real. A wife, a grandson, a sister, all in everyday situation helping out in ways that could happen in any one of our lives. But then why do the ads look so unbelievable? They look like ads. They have actors who are obviously models, in places that are obviously staged, and are positioned in situations that are obviously contrived. Given the above-mentioned large pool of customer care associative, why could gp not use one of its own, talking about a real life situation in a real life world? Or better still, have their husbands, grandfathers or nieces talking about how Ms. so-and-so, the gp customer care person, has gone out of her way to help them do small little everyday things. That would have been a winner. And would have turned a good idea into a great ad.
Production quality-wise, they should have abandoned the glossy, highly produced look, for a more gritty real-life handheld docu-drama feel. With the busyness and the chaos of real life. That everyday person who has to juggle so many roles, and do so many things, but still remembers that today is your aunts 30th wedding anniversary and buys her flowers on the way to work. You know, like we do everyday.
For the series on production value I’ll give it a 5 on 10. (I have no issues with the production per se but like I mentioned I think it’s the wrong look-feel for this series). On originality and insight: 8. On translating the idea into a TVC: 4 and Overall: 6 (it could have been so much better).
Banglalink customer care: the TVC made for the launch of their customer care campaign was one that is very predictable. Ask any person to come up with a customer care ad and this is most likely what would have been done. A customer care associate helping the sad boy with a balloon, the lady with her shopping or pleading for the lost ball. And end of the day putting her hand on her heart and promising (kotha dilam) to give you better service. It left me saying – “so?”
Now I am not a Banglalink user so I do not know how far they have gone to live up to, or what else they have done in the customer care end to cement this promise. But I am reminded of another telco whose strap line was “because we care” and the reason I left them was that it took me ages getting through to their customer care line and when I did, they were not helpful! So as a person whose not using Banglalink, this doesn’t do much to convince me they have good customer care. After all in today’s hyper competitive telco market a good customer care is not only essential, it is a pre-requisite. And basically to me the Banglalink ad says that they are just telling me that they will do their job! Okay. But I need more.
Having said this I think the Banglalink’s ad will be more popular (which does not necessarily mean more effective) than gp’s. Why? Well first of all they don’t pretend to be anything other than what they say they are doing. True that it seems they are not using an actual customer care associate either but then the whole thing has this overtly we-want-to-be-a-sugary-sweet-TVC feel. Viewers like that. The jingle is soothing and the TVC’s payoff kotha dilam well entranced. Overall the production has taken a bad idea and made it better. Reminds me of something I believe David Ogilvy said, “If you don’t have anything to say, sing it!” I might be wrong but this ad wasn’t.
Can I ask for a favour? I haven’t understood the follow up Banglalink customer care series at all? There is a dust storm and I look up to find a Banglink centre? Or I get pick-pocketed in the bus and find a Banglalink centre? Do they mean the robbers have gone in there? I know they are trying to say these centres are everywhere but what’s with the rain and tears? Can someone please explain this lot to me?
Production value I’ll give it a 5 on 10. On originality and insight: 3. On translating the idea into a TVC: 6 and Overall: 5
Folks can I be indulged for a few minutes more? I’ve received a few queries to ask me how I actually grade. Is it a panel of viewers? Do I benchmark? Is it a weighted mean? Why does a TVC get x or y on some parameters but then z on overall? Should there not be fractions? So on and so forth. Well frankly this is not a scientific gradation. It’s not statistically correct (I think I still hold the record for the lowest marks in any Statistics paper in Delhi University). It is basically the same scale on which I judge food – the Kachchi scale. On a scale of 1 to 10 (where 10 is a hot plate of Fakhruddin’s Kachchi and 1 is shobji bhaji) I decide to give depending on how much I want to eat it or not. But now there are some people who like shobji bhaji and hate (oh my god no!) biryani. To me, closer you are to mouth-watering biryani the better! It’s that simple.
Nazim Farhan Choudhury is an advertising professional with a love for biryani. Being a connoisseur allows him to judge things according to his taste. This means at times he is shooting of his mouth and critiquing other people’s work. Luckily for him being in the business for 14 years allows him to trump quantity over quality. He strongly believes that even Fakhruddin Baburchi needed years to perfect his recipe before attaining kachchi nirvana. We too need keep cooking up ads and people criticising our creations before we reach perfection. If you have any critique of these critiques (or any mouth watering recipes) feel free to write at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blogsite http://nazimfarhan.blogspot.com
Links to the Ads:
grameenphone customer care
Banglalink customer care
Saturday, July 26, 2008
It has been my pet peeve that we do not use humour in advertising that we develop locally. It seems that we believe consumers here are more receptive to tear-jerkers (what was Banglalink thinking using a dead mother in a commercial!?!?) or song-and-dance routines rather than a belly full of giggle. That thought process I believe is wrapped. Given the hardship that most of our consumers go through every day of their lives, would not humour bring some respite? Worldwide the inclination has been towards humorous ads. Be it the Americas, Europe, Latin America or even nearer to home in Thailand or India, funny ads rule. Which one of us has not resisted the temptation of forwarding a belly aching funny ad to everyone in our mailing list? Then why is Bangladesh an exception? Of course we get to see a few ads that end up being funny not by design but rather by accident. A mispronunciation or the sheer khatness of it! But only a handful has used this route to reach out to the consumers.
I usually avoid talking about ads that I’ve played a part in creating in these columns. But I can’t help but bring up two sets of Ads that we had created in order to break this mould. Both were for the carbonated drink Mojo. First was an ad that we call “The Cowboy Offer”. It’s about a man who is taking the Qurbani Goru (Cow) home and the usual interaction that he has on the street. The second was a series of 32 TVCs during the last World Cup Cricket where we gave away things like an aktaara, a singara, a calculator, a bonsai or even a Dhaka-Borga bus ticket. I believe these ads had a mixed reception. A few loved it and a few thought we had lost our minds. Overall I believe we tried to push the envelope. For every success there must be failures as well. How else do you know you’re not playing it safe?
Over the last few months I’m seeing an emerging trend of producing humorous ads. Quite a few of them being produced for Square Toiletries by Mediacom (Amaar naam Mohfiz or the suicide of a shirt) or by humour man himself Shawon of Grey Dhaka.
Danish Mackenzie: I believe they can rightfully claim the title of being Bangladesh’s first viral success. This was when people not only saw the ads online but also forwarded it to friends even before the official media break. What can one say about these ads but that they are close to being perfect as possible? I am going to spend the rest of this review raving about it, so if you disagree, move on to the next one.
The premise is so simple here is a generic type of biscuit (Mackenzie) that is now being made locally. So instead of buying the expensive Malaysian or Taiwanese one, here buy the same tasting local variant. And the creative interpretation of the insight is so magical. One bite and you are transformed into an Englishman! What made this series of ads so grand were the attention to details, the sheer brilliance of the scripting and the par excellence of acting. The only thing debateable here is which of the three ads in one’s favourite.
Mine is the one where the man soon migrating to America goes to a training centre to learn English. It captivates starting from the name of the centre (Hollywood), to the way the teacher is picking his teeth, to the end line where he says, “George Bush I’m coming.” And I love the way they so subtlety put in the price point (Less than Tk. 100). The touches of humour through out the TVC, be it the protagonist suggesting the price was inclusive for ticket and visa cost or the Noakhali accent that was used for characterisation.
A close second was the Dhakiya man in his house whose friend visits him. And how he is surprised by this own transformation into the English speaking person that none of his forefathers were. “Oh my god I’m talking English!” Expressions were spot on.
Needless to say Shawon and his team in Grey Dhaka had their hands all over this. The pay off a fitting “Deshi Made Foreign Taste” was delivered in the trademark Shawon style. These TVCs are amongst Amitabh Reza’s best work. The use of camera angles, framing, the music track, use of background details like Bush’s picture in the background or the IELTS book on the desk all goes on to make this a whole ad. This would not have worked if corners were cut. As I have been saying in the last few articles, we do not give enough importance to the production quality. It works to spend money and time behind making the TVCs come alive. This series is a shinning example of that.
For the series on production value I’ll give it a 9 on 10. On originality and idea a 10 and Overall: a benchmarking 9.
Pran Mr. Mango Candy: the jingle is catchy “I am Mokhles… and I’m not so hopeless”. I’ve been laughing from the ready get set go. Okay, It’s not a rib tickler. But it leaves you with a smile on your face and the foot tapping. The product is a hard candy that is being positioned as a mood upper. When things look down pop in a Mr. Mango and life will be better.
There is usually not much to rationally say about such an impulse purchase product. So best is to touch the consumer emotionally and just leave behind the brand proposition and name. This spot I think succeeded at that endeavour. The client also intelligently avoided the tendency to treat it like a child’s product and not do a “kids-having-fun” sort of a spot. Incidentally Pran with a lot of their products are in this field. Unfortunately I don’t think they pay enough attention to their responsibility as a good corporate citizen and often end up endorsing mischievous behaviour of children. (One day I will rant about my least favourite ad in the world – Pran Masala’s ad where the husband abuses his wife with “Raantay toh janlayna” (“Haven’t even learnt to cook”))
There are two major things I don’t like about the ad. Firstly the obvious caricature of some of the characters. While I will give it to them that a bald Mr. Mohkles ads to the appeal, the tiil (black-head scar) on man getting slapped was not needed. (Bringing me back to why are Pran ads so abusive?). Secondly I didn’t think the MVO (male voice over) cut away near the end to say the brand name was at all needed. Matter of fact it was distracting.
On production value I’ll give it a 5. On idea a 5 and Overall: 5/10
Nazim Farhan Choudhury is an advertising professional (and a closet comedian) with a penchant for at times shooting of his mouth (or his fingers on a keyboard) and critiquing other people’s work. Luckily for him being in the business for 14 years allows him to trump quantity over quality. He hides behind the notion that to be better, one needs to learn where one is going wrong as well. That, dear readers, you can enlighten him at email@example.com or by visiting his blog site http://nazimfarhan.blogspot.com
Also an appeal to know if there is any particular genre or product category one would want him to focus on in the future.
Links to the Ads
Danish Mackenzie Coaching
Danish Mackenzie Dhakaiya
Pran Mr. Mango Candy
Monday, June 09, 2008
There is beauty everywhere. And these are the people that an Optimist lives for. Something that renews and rejuvenates one belief in the inherent good of mankind and particularly our fellow citizens. Unilever presents this years 10 Shada Moner Manush (Humans with a pure heart!).
These year's 10 recipients come from varying religious, geographical, age, gender and economic category. They have been nominated for differing work they have done in different fields. But they share one thing. The desire to put others before self. To put their nation before themselves. To do good for mankind (and in one case the environment!). They are examples one should bow our heads to. And pray that hopefully one day we can be like them. And even if we achieve a little bit of that. I think this nation will be so much more than it is today.
This year's Shada Moner Manush are (picture left to right):
* Shudhir Chandra Bardhan
* Rokib-Ud-Daula Akonda
* Shrimongol Tilokand Mohathero
* Md. Shamshuddin Mandal
* Kanai Chondro Das
* Fazilatunnesa Bulu
* Dr. Khalekuzzaman
* Manobendronath Sharkar
* Jahanara Begum
* Md. Jahir Alam
We at Adcomm are proud to be part of this process.
Here is what the Unilever has to say about this.
Nowadays, in this tech-savvy world, people are becoming more and more self-centered. The complexities of the modern world are making people think of themselves as they don’t have a choice. The so-called moral values are lost in the maze of globalization. To keep up with the pace people don’t have time to look anywhere else. We are tapped by a society that has stopped thinking and feeling. Don’t we have anything left?
Yes we do. When we get to know that a working person from a remote region of the country is working to help others, completely ignorant of his or her own benefits. Instead of thinking of personal financial betterment the person is thinking about people, the society, and the country. Unmoved through the hazards of life, they continue to help humanity. We can’t help but hope when we know that quite a number of people, in different regions of Bangladesh, are silently doing their duty for the people. Maybe it’s true that most heroes are anonymous. That’s why we don’t get to know about them much. But the fruits of their works are benefiting thousands, protecting the nature, improving the society. Ones who rise up from the limits of selfishness and think about welfare of the society they are mostly selfless and unspoken of. White stands as a symbol of all that is beautiful, soft and beneficial in the world. And these people have a white heart or in other words they are “SHADA MONER MANUSH”.
In the year 2006, Unilever Bangladesh Limited has taken up the responsibility to find these blessed people from all around the country and introduce them to the people, so that everybody else will follow their example. The call to these people went out in the form of advertisement where people were encouraged to find “SHADA MONER MANUSH” and ones who did would be rewarded. The hype was so intense after the announcement was made in all the television channels and newspapers that three thousand recommendations were submitted. After cross-examining all the recommendation the top ten “SHADA MONER MANUSH” were chosen.
Our production company Screaming Girl Production just produced the superb TVC for ACI's Freedom Sanitary Napkin. The brilliant script was by Shawon of Grey Dhaka. Meticulous direction was by the very talented Piplu.
Here is the making of video. Enjoy!
And here is the first of the two TVCs
Sunday, June 08, 2008
Off the bat I must apologies to Amitabh Reza for saying in last month’s review, that he produced the Banglalink Desh 3 TVC. I was wrong. He is wise enough not to repeat the same mistake thrice. The dubious distinction for that ad belongs to Kislu. Thanks to all who pointed out this error on my part. Also for all those emails and sms’ telling me what you thought of the critique. I believe conversations like this can go on to make better ads. Keep your comments coming. So on to the new month.
As far as executions go, I thought the launch ad was weak in many areas. A TVC of this magnitude should have been better produced. Though the idea was strong, I believe the execution let it down. I had to see it a few times before I figured out what they were talking about. The story line was week and the computer graphics had much to be desired. The worse part of it was the music track. It didn’t have the empathy that visuals tried to convey. Often when producing commercials, we focus on the visuals and forget that audio is an integral part of the viewing experience.
The second TVC did the opposite. It has a super music direction. However the song needed to have more oomph in it. Needed to have the urgency of Nazrul’s “chal chal chal”. The current lyric, when I spent time trying to listen to it, was really motivating. But one needed to make an effort to figure it out. I am afraid the consumer will not give you that luxury.
End of the day I think the Agency overall did a good job. It will get the desired impact of making the BSRM name more familiar not only to people wanting to buy the steel product, but also to those potential investors when this company floats their IPO in a few months.
On production value for TVC 1 I’ll give it a 4 on 10 - it could have been so much better. On idea, a 5. On production for TVC 2 I’ll give it a 6. On idea a 6. Overall: Campaign 6.
For the Crown Cement TVC, on production value I’ll give it a 7 on 10. (Must have spent a bundle on getting those boats in place). On idea a 6. Overall: my highest till date – 7.
Nazim Farhan Choudhury is a busybody at large with Adcomm Limited. He has over 14 years experience of pretending to be an advertising man. To his utter surprise he even succeeds fooling some people some of the time. His greatest fear now being that after reading these writings he will be exposed. You can as usual send angry emails to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog http://nazimfarhan.blogspot.com. Or send over fat envelopes filled with greenbacks for great reviews next time!
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Errata: I have wrongly said that Amitabh Reza produced the Banglalink Desh 3 ad. He did the first two. This one was Kislu's work. Sorry!
A lot is happening in the mobile telecom advertising world recently. After a dull year it seems most of the players are back in action. For this month’s review I thought it would be interesting to see what the various communication are looking like.
grameenphone: well before I start of, a disclaimer. My agency was fired by grameenphone this month. It seems after a year or two of dabbling with various agencies handling different segments, the company has decided to consolidate most of its work at one place. Grey is the beneficiary of this move. And they have just started rolling out the new campaign – “Stay Close”.
A very powerful insight indeed. Why else would one carry a phone but to connect? It is amongst the most basic of the function of category. But the question that arises in my mind, is it good enough to bring in new customers to grameenphone? Is that the customers are looking for? Of course the advertisings are just rolling out so it is a bit presumptuous of me start guessing the purpose of the campaign.
So what did I think of the actual ad? A railway station and a chance encounter between old lovers. Quite an interesting setting and Amitabh Reza’s execution of the script was wonderful. Very poetic indeed. Quite a few people will like it. Some swoon over it. But I get the distinct feeling where have I seen it before?
The story line has a few holes in it as well. Our protagonist seems to have his ex-flames number and knows that she is still unmarried after all these years. So why didn’t he try to “stay close” earlier? Hmmm… I have broken the 1st Golden Rule of Cinema – “Thou shalt not question the holes in the plot!”
I would wait till the whole campaign roles out before making my mind up about if I like it or not, but right now, I’m sitting on the fence.
On production value I’ll give it a 7 on 10. On originality a 4. Overall: let’s wait.
Banglalink: on its third instalment Banglalink Desh 3 is another Amitabh Reza production. Is it working? I am positive speaking to the marketing gurus from Banglalink the answer will be an emphatic “yes”. Numbers are up, they are now number two player in the market. A lot of people like the song and dance routine. Or maybe some like me just like watching Monalisa on TV! But I’ll bet you a dinner at a restaurant of your choice the series of ads isn’t adding anything to the brand value.
There is no insight here. There is no consumer connect. There is no element of campaignability or anything that is making the subscribers remember it beyond the catchy jingle. Ads like this work as long as there is money to play it on TV and then when they go off air… poof!… they are forgotten. Quick, name me a biscuit!… how many of you thought of the rage from a few years back “Khaitay khaitay jai bela?” What was the brand anyway?
Banglalink D3 as an ad itself isn’t anything to talk about. It isn’t different from D2 or D1! A lot of people dancing around and singing the same old song. Are you impressed? I bet Amitabh made a lot of money on it. And I bet he is not going to put it on his showreel.
Worst bit of the campaign is that it is a complete rip-off Telenor Pakistan’s one. Shame. Our advertising world has (or atleast should have) gone beyond this. It helps no one. Not the agency, not the industry, not the client and certainly not the brand. Well to answer then: “Ami bhalo achi kintu apnar brand nai!”
On production value I’ll give it a 4 on 10. (it isn’t any better or worse than the other two) On originality a 0. Overall: 3/10.
Citycell: I started my advertising career working on this brand. I watched by as they made one mistake after the other and eroded their brand value and market share. So they brought in another agency, another marketing head and another campaign to save their proverbial bacon. The knight in shinning armour it turned out is a campaign copied from one of my favourites – Mac vs. PC.
The Creative honcho of the agency behind the ad is none other than Shargil Karim. And according to me (and I’ve said it many many times before) he is amongst the top 3 creative people in advertising in Bangladesh. I am not sure if he was involved in the campaign or not, but as a fellow Mac user, I’ll venture a guess that he had more than his share of input in it. At first I thought, I hate this campaign because it’s another copy. But more I think of it, more I think they have got something brilliant going here. What a wonderful grasp of product differentiation. They have taken a product and a technology that is in consumer’s mind inferior to the market leader’s, and then point by point they refute it. With consumer’s perception being turned on its head I am sure Citycell is back in their list of consideration before making a purchase. And end of the day, that is all an advertising should really do.
I can’t talk of this set of ads without mentioning two people. Samir the director is one of the most under-rated resources we have. I am surprised why we don’t give him more films to do. He did great editing on it and the art direction was meticulous. The second person is Asif the main actor. He pulled it off to the tee. We liked his performance so much that we’ve used him for one of our ads. Look out for him. He is going places. Remember, Justin Long, the Mac in the original ads, is now an up-and-coming actor in Hollywood.
On production value I’ll give it a 6 on 10. On originality a 5 (yup! That’s right) Overall: 5/10 (I still subtracted 2 points because is a copy).
Nazim Farhan Choudhury is the chief mattobbor in Adcomm Limited. Spending 14 years pretending to be in advertising, he now thinks that he can critique works that others have spent many nights (and in some cases even 5 minutes) trying to come up with. To his utter surprise he notices that most of the brands that he has worked on have become quite powerful in the market. He would love to come up with a Cannes Lion winning idea but unfortunately his “dimak key batti” is on a permanent load-shedding schedule. You can send angry emails to him at email@example.com or visit his blog http://nazimfarhan.blogspot.com.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
I hope those involved will take it in the spirit it was intended - to better the game for all!
Meril Fresh Gel
I did not know what to make of the ad when I first saw it. The TVC, while interesting, lacked quite a bit on finesse. Based on the insight that a bad mouth needs cleaning as well, the premise was very simple; Fresh Gel cleans your mouth. Of course exaggerated to say that it would clean even the filthiest of mouth.
In my mind it was a strong creative idea. Unfortunately the production value of the ad had a lot to be desired. It, in the end game, let the whole brand down. It left a very “cheap” after taste. But I should not single out and only blame Fresh Gel’s owners Square. It is a common problem I have seen in Bangladesh. Client’s often in a fit of being astute with their wallets balk on paying top takas for a well-produced ad. This is so counter productive. Does no justice for the idea or the brand. If you squeeze the producer on his budget, corners will be cut and TVC will look haggard. I can bet you my copy of the Gunn reel that this is what has happened in this case. Shame.
Specially so if you look at the work Square’s oral has been making over the last few years. Magic toothpowder’s “Amar naam Mofiz” ad reached iconic status. (I however will be quite interested to see how effective it was!) Their strong teeth propositioned ads specially on press and on billboard was well executed. And who can not agree with the ad with the dog. Their use of humour brought in a re-freshing change from the drabness of the ads created by oral market leaders.
Oh before I forget. Another aspect that bugs me to no ends – why do we still need “freight sections”? That is the little computer graphic based sequence in the middle that “proved” the rational reason to buy the product. This DOES NOT HELP! Don’t think the consumers are not intelligent enough to make the connect between the toothpaste and fresh mouth. The TVC would have worked better without that reason why!
On a more positive note I quite like the consumer promotion that Square has spun off from the TVC. It is to clean the country of corruption and band ideas. A very potent idea though I am not sure if they are doing it enough justice. Through a more holistic approach that they are endeavouring, the brand will start building a powerful brand essence. Given the potential of campaignibility of this idea, I hope in the future to see more executions in the route.
Over all I’ll give it a 4 out of 10. (It lost 2 points on production value!)
Nazim Farhan Choudhury is the chief mattobbor in Adcomm Limited. Spending 14 years pretending to be in advertising, he now thinks that he can critique works that others have spent many nights (and in some cases even 5 minutes) trying to come up with. To his utter surprise he notices that most of the brands that he has worked on have become quite powerful in the market. He would love to come up with a Cannes Lion winning idea but unfortunately his “dimak key batti” is on a permanent load-shedding schedule. You can send angry emails to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog http://nazimfarhan.blogspot.com.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Below is a review of the place by a Canadian travel writer:
Their YouTube review:
Hope you can visit soon.
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Rising Star, The Daily Star, Thursday February 7, 2008
It's difficult to narrow down what Nazim Farhan Choudhury could be best liked for. The current Deputy Managing Director of Adcomm Limited, an active member of 'Phiriye Ano Bangladesh', a blogger, a RS fan and a broad-minded enthusiast of local youth projects; he is someone or the other to everyone. What made him stand out to this reporter is the simple fact that he still remembers he used to be a reckless teen not so long ago, and thinks outside the box unlike most of the obstinate adults we meet. Sabhanaz Rashid Diya visits him on a windy January evening for a tête-à-tête about advertising, nation-building and something in a box that we are all glued to.
Lots of private universities are opening courses under Media and Communication. Are the students that are coming out good enough for the job market? Do they fulfill a professional advertising firm's requirements?
First of all, I have to admit I don't know enough about the courses. However, what I do know is that most of these courses are designed with a journalistic or business perspective. They do not cater to advertising as a subject. Having said that, practitioners like me believe that advertising cannot be taught in a classroom environment. It's a different and more practical branch of media. There are actually few schools across the world that teaches advertising. You have to remember that every one of us falls into the category of a potential consumer, and hence, you really have to go out into the field and understand the demands of the market.
More importantly, we don't expect much formal education when we hire someone. We don't think he/she will just step into the office and be perfect. For the first 6 months after recruiting, the person will basically have to write reports, make estimates and do other desk jobs. Eventually, he/she becomes more involved and steps out into the field. This is what we call job training and in the process, we shape the individual to cater to our needs.
So, what do you look for in a potential candidate?
For a place in an advertising firm, you do not need to come from a media background. Somebody will not be in a better position simply because he/she has a major in Media and Communication. We look for other things in any candidate, which includes mainly intelligence, ability to handle situations efficiently, ability to work under pressure, if he/she can come with a unique solution in a particular situation, if he/she has an open mind and is welcoming to new ideas and whether he/she can interact well with others.
So, universities offering a major in Media and Communications will not necessarily make it more credible to an ad firm?
Each of us in an ad firm comes from different backgrounds. I, for example, have a major in Economics, whereas we have people from Zoology, Sociology, Architecture and many more. The composition is diverse and each of us contributes to the making of a unique idea.
People are still watching Hindi channels, although we have several local, private channels. Why do you think this is so?
On that note, I disagree with you. A research company called SIRIUS runs a regular TV tracking study which shows that Hindi channels in general have less than 10 percent viewership of the entire TV-watching population. Whereas, say for example, ATN Bangla caters to 30+ percent of the audience. There has been a gradual and positive migration from Hindi channels to the local ones.
It is often seen that women are portrayed as mere tools in commercials. They are brainless housewives or something similar. Do you think ads can be sexist on those grounds?
The scenario that you're describing used to be a stereotype 5-10 years back. Things have changed and women are shown in more professional or corporate positions. For example, BanglaLink and GrameenPhone have some women-oriented ads that have worked very well. Most brands have a target audience and the advertisements are designed to cater to the needs of that audience.
You also have to understand that ads reflect on what is in the society. If a large proportion of the women are housewives, then the ads must reflect on that to reach out to them. 16 years ago, we aired an ad where the husband was bringing tea for the wife. This raised a huge controversy, as the masses found it to be absurd. However, we took that slim step to bring about changes. Ads cannot create situations that do not fall under the barometers set by a society. Recently, what we've shown is that the husband is occasionally cooking when the wife is sick, or making tea on a day off from work. Such things are acceptable to people. Portraying something that is unusual in an average family will result in the audience rejecting that concept.
What about fairness creams? The dark girl falling behind or not getting married was a common concept. Do you think they were sexist to a certain extent?
'Fair & Lovely' happens to be one of the brands I work on. Earlier, as you've described, it showed how a girl could not get married because she was dark-skinned. However, the recent ads are different. It is seen that a girl has a boost in confidence after using the fairness cream and feels more prepared to become a movie star from being a small time, theatre actress. In that particular ad, the girl's talents are not being demeaned. The fairness cream only raises her confidence level the same way dandruff-free hair, fresh breath or a bright smile would. These ads are not sexist.
Besides, a lot depends on the market where a product is being publicized. For example, the same company that is selling fairness cream in India and Bangladesh are selling tanning cream in Europe. Professional brands are careful about the kind of market they're targeting, whereas several unprofessional brands don't look into it.
Since the media and advertising agencies play a huge impact on a consumer's shopping list, do advertising firms have a regulation for quality control?
Certainly, there is a regulation. The ad firm does not make any claims about the product unless it can be substantiated by a test or by facts. Apart from that, the consumer is not stupid. If he/she buys a product after being influenced by the ad and finds it to be unsatisfactory, then he/she will not buy it again. So, the product themselves have to maintain certain standards in order to capture the market. The product must deliver itself to its consumers.
You've been actively involved with Phiriye Ano Bangladesh. What is the story behind it?
What we have seen is that the majority of the current population in Bangladesh has not had first-hand experience of the Liberation War. Although, many of our parents or grandparents were born and grew up in India, Pakistan or even British Raj; for us, home means Bangladesh. We've lived here all our lives and there is a certain sense of responsibility that we feel towards it. A sense of conflict is also evident amongst the older generations. They argue about who declared independence, instead of working towards the future. They wait for a large-scale change to happen, something of a miracle.
Phiriye Ano Bangladesh (PAB) is a very interesting concept. Around 70 percent of the population is in their late 30's or below 30. On the other hand, most politicians are over 65. There is a difference between politicians and nation builders. An individual who's not into politics can also be an important part of the nation-building cycle. Anyway, we believe that since 70 percent of the population is young, they should have a leading voice in nation-building. PAB aims to promote such young people. It creates a platform for the young to step up and work for the development of the country.
So, PAB acts like a platform for young nation builders. How has it been able to do so?
When we meet inspired youngsters, it's often seen that they suffer from a sense of apathy. They feel discouraged to do things on their own. This is where PAB comes into the picture. It gets more people to be involved with a certain idea and takes it to the next level.
On a brighter note, young people are not interested in many conflicts. They are motivated to change their present and do field work. We've seen several young individuals with micro projects such as teaching a small group of street children. These projects, collectively, can result in a macro change in the country. PAB promotes and facilitates micro projects like there. If you come to us with an idea, then we will sit with you and consider its feasibility. We'll provide the bridges that you need to turn your idea into reality and engage more people to develop on that idea.
At the same time, we've realized Bangladesh is in need of some serious sensible discussions. People need to think outside the box instead of just debating on talk shows. At times, I feel I should put everyone in Bangladesh in Facebook just so that they could interact and discuss ideas. Nonetheless, PAB provides a platform for discussion. People with different ideas can sit together and discuss them to come to a more practical solution. Instead of debating over trivial issues and being stubborn, young people are more open to new concepts and are motivated to implement them.
I agree. Young people can be future nation builders. However, there is a severe lack of opportunities. Adults just won't listen. What are your views on the matter?
Like I've said, only 30 percent of the population comprises of adults over 45 or 50; whereas, 70 percent is the younger generations. Why should such a large percentage of the people wait for opportunities to be provided by a smaller percentage? Make little changes happen for you and people around you. This can inspire others to make the same changes, and eventually, we have a snowball effect. If an old man does not listen to you, raise your voice and tell him that you're going to be on bigger role-player on the development wheel in the future. What power has he got against such a large number of youngsters?
Besides, young people like Barack Obama in the USA and David Cameron in the UK are coming into politics. Similarly even in countries like ours India, Pakistan, Bhutan, and Southeast Asia, the young politicians are beginning to create a major impact. The same needs to happen for Bangladesh. The young have a much more open mind. They are more exposed and they have the need for change. Say if the life expectancy of an average person is 70 years. Between a 65 year old and 20 year old, who would you say has more stake in the future?
I believe those words will be inspiring to any kid who's reading this. By the way, you have a very cool model car collection. I'm quite impressed.
(smiling) Ah, thank you! I hope to transform those into real cars someday!
By Shabanaz Rashid Diya
To read the unabridged version of the interview, visit: sabhanaz.blogspot.com
Monday, January 07, 2008
As I board the Commuter Shuttle Train at the Gulshan station, I look at my communication device. It should take me about 20 minutes to reach downtown Dhaka’s Bhaluka station. Just in time for me to receive the guests from Ireland who are arriving at Gazipur International Airport to attend the Economist Magazine’s conference titled “Learning from Bangladesh’s Economic Transformation.” They have a lot of learning to do over the next two days.
The year is 2040. Bangladesh is in the heart of the South Asia’s booming economic zone. Dhaka mega-city itself is a huge metropolis that houses a population of 50 million. The last 30 years have been a wonderful journey for a nation one time called “a bottomless basket” by Henry Kissinger. The transforming few years of early 2000s laid a foundation to an exponential growth curve. Today Bangladesh’s economy is a gateway for all economic activity for the Indo-Chinese world.
We had played our cards just right. After realising in 2007 that confrontational politics was tearing our nation into pieces we set ourselves a goal for going through a transformation that would surpass that of post WWII Japan or that of the erstwhile Asian Tigers. Our leaders at that time very rightly decided that a quantum change required new thinking and a new mindset. Wisely they brought in a cadre of capable and professional young Bangladeshi’s to infuse life into the roadmap of growth.
Known as Gen71, this group of enthusiastic young minds set about the transformation process with a passion not seen in Bangladesh since the War of Independence. They focused their energy into three areas – Reform, Education and Industrialisation.
It was self evident that the first hurdle that needed to be crossed was the bureaucratic misalignment that defeated almost all of the positive changes that were being taken. Rapid movement towards e-governance and dissemination of information brought transparency and honesty to the functioning of the government, judiciary and other branches of authority. At the same time it ensured that businesses followed the regulatory framework that were laid out to protect consumers and workers.
The other pillar of the Bangladesh miracle was the huge investments that were made in Education. It was a no-brainer that the 150 million population of that era needed to be made employable. Massive IT, mathematics and multi-language education centres were set up. Education curriculum and methodology was completely overhauled. Emphasis was given to ensure that the young population had enough skill sets to play an aggressive role in the rapid industrialisation that was on the drawing boards.
On the economic side Bangladesh was astute to stop listening to the socialist economists that were still married to their Stalinist pasts. Yes Bangladesh was once an agrarian society, but being the world’s most densely populated country the only way to ensure economic growth was through unprecedented industrialisation. Basic industries like steel and electronics were encouraged. Ancillary businesses grew up to support these. The RMG sector, which was even then, the powerhouse of the economy continued to grow strongly. Businesses in that sector consolidated and became some of the leading players in the world market. However the raw talent of our youth meant that ICT now rivalled RMG as the export earner for the nation. Utilization of huge coal reserves and discovery of both on and off shore Oil and Gas deposit turned Bangladesh into a net exporter of these commodities and of Power. A robust stock market and a liberal financial and foreign exchange policy ensured that Bangladeshi companies could take advantage of this energy. Run-away remittance earnings and FDI fuelled on the economy. Many of our entrepreneurs and corporations bought up companies big and small around the world. Bangladesh had arrived.
As did Bangladesh Biman’s non-stop supersonic flight from Dublin. I rapidly closed the active channels of the all-enveloping Net coverage that was beaming the world into my comdevice. I wondered if the Irish guests would be able to tell if the bottle of Guinness they had on board actually came from the industrial area of Rajshahi.