Syed Hassan Abbas is a known name in the Advertising Industry of Pakistan. He is the youngest Chief Operating Officer of an Advertising Agency in Pakistan, which in itself is a record. Having worked on about 118 brands, he has earned accolades and awards on various local and International platforms including PAS awards. His work has been exemplary and journey has been inspirational, because of which we thought to share it with everyone. So let’s begin
Q. Hassan, you started off as an Account Executive at Red Communications in 2004 and today in 2018 you are the youngest Chief Operating Officer in the world of advertising in Pakistan. Tell us about your journey.
A. I stepped in the world of advertising with the objective to redefine leadership. Today, I am the youngest Chief Operating Officer in the world of advertising in Pakistan, but for me it was never about titles and designations. As a young associate, I relentlessly used to search my TV screen for ads, hunt them by the road side and dreamed about making ad every single night. It was not a smooth journey but my hard work and perseverance has brought me to the place I am today. Advertising is not everyone’s cup of tea, one has to take very bold and risky decisions when you are in this business. So yes, if I look back at my journey today I can easily say it was a roller-coaster ride but I enjoyed every bit of it.
Q. You have worked with leading brands both locally and internationally, which category is more challenging and why?
A. Let’s first talk about the international clients. I am workaholic and challenging clients fuel my inner drive to progress. I believe both global and local client come with their own set of perks. For global clients working under their flagship partners, creativity becomes the biggest challenge. These brands operate under a strict code of brand guidelines and therefore they are alienated from the society’s cultural dynamics. Despite of the robust advertising budgets, agile brand strategies, distribution, it has becomes difficult for brands to understand the local consumer insights and create meaningful heart touching communication.
As far as the local clients are concerned they always give the agency a freehand to work. They are ready to break the market norms, standing true to the local tradition, insight and traditional customer heart. There is so much room to play and the capacity to make wonders. However, with such great power comes great responsibility and it’s our job as advertisers to come up with “effective communication”, yielding results such as sales and high index of brand salience.
Q. How has the dynamic of advertising changed from the time you started to date?
A. Back in the year 2004, advertising agencies were more like integrated partners providing around the clock solutions. At present, the advertising agencies are focused towards specialized functions roles. The advent of local marketing consultancies, research units, PR firms and design houses are massively disruption advertising. They claim to provide cost effective solution but sadly not real time advertising.
On the brighter side, previously, there was a single medium with limited channel mix to advertise. Whereas now, we have multiple platforms, channel mixes and mediums to penetrate the message and achieve effectiveness.
Q. What are the greatest challenge of the modern day advertising?
A. The greatest challenge of the modern day advertising is selection of the right platform for the brand which is perfectly synced with the category, the brand positioning, target audience’s behavior and lifestyle. With the digital evolution, advertising messages are more measurable and quantifiable than ever before. Conversely, this limits the room for creativity and experimentation for the advertisers, promising them a formulae for achieve market success.
Q. You just spoke about digital evolution, which brings us to out next question, is digital marketing a threat to conventional advertising?
A. Digital has rendered tremendous contribution towards reshaping the modern day advertising. Integrating social media in the concept and execution is an integral part of ideation process today. The social media platform has helped us tremendously, creating specialized consumer focused content. We can engage and be in direct contact with the target audience. Understanding their behavior patterns, lifestyle trend analysis consumer journey was never so comprehendible. The greatest opportunity lies in the fact that the algorisms of social media platforms help us effectively to deliver our message and utilize the campaign budgets. It continuously pushes brand’s to keep up with the evolving trends. Digital media has made advertising more pragmatic and real time effective than ever before!
However, the social media is continuously evolving, keeping up with the trends is not a piece of cake. The biggest drawback comes when majority of the brands are unable to understand the true essence and simply join the trending hashtags bandwagon. Instead making it a threat to the traditional media with a “digital first” approach, let’s focus towards building “evolving consumer behavior” focused approach.
Q. It’s a common knowledge that Pakistani clients are not keen in taking risks or experimenting with their campaigns. How true is that? And when and how do you think this mindset will change?
A. I believe this global phenomena, big brand simply focus on the KPI’s and ROI’s rather than brand salience and the love index. Internationally, we can only find handful of interesting examples from brands like McDonalds, Coke, Pepsi, BMW, and Audi etc. They were brave enough to devising a strong positioning with their witty creative content. In the Pakistani market, brands like Tapal and Lipton created great uproar on social media and received great mileage. However, the situation got monotonous when many brands started adopting the “me too” and jumping on the bandwagon with meaningless message. On the contrary, there are examples from brands like Seasons Canola with their “Sub Achay Kay Liye” campaign. The brand aspired to become more relevant in the younger audience and played on Pakistan’s cultural insights of the modern day youth. A similar bold message was executed by Edenrobe. Where the lawn brand competitors showed the fancy female, the brand challenged the norm and showed the cultural reality that the modern Pakistani woman had to undergo. Therefore, playing safe with the product focused advertising has always been the rule of jungle but clear seas never made great sailors
Q. What is that one thing that you love the most about advertising?
A. For me advertising is more than means to earn bread and butter. It’s my passion. It fuels my inner drive to grow not only as a professional but also as an individual. I love meeting new people, discovering their insights, learning about their unheard tales. The greatest part about working in advertising is that you get to experience the unique side of life. I believe advertising is all about inspiring others. Working in this field has helped me change and spread good will in the society. Every few months there is a new challenge. In my entire 17 years tenure, I have gotten to work on 85 different client belonging to multiple categories e.g. FMCG, telecommunications and hardware, consumer electronics, lifestyle, food and culinary, banking and finance, tyres and automobiles etc. This has helped me feed the exuberating curiosity, enhancing my experience and knowledge by multifold.
The eventful journey that I have had with the unique stories I have come across. I can’t have imaged in any other profession other than advertising. I am an ad man from heart and will always remain one.
Q. What is the one thing you hate about advertising? Now don’t say there isn’t any, because that’s not possible?
A. Hate is a strong word and one can never hate anything related to their passion in life. However, I believe there are a few missing legal regulator’s Pakistani advertising industry. There should be more regulatory bodies like APNS and PBA, which help to channelize the norms and prevailing practices in the sector.
Q. You have set many trends in the advertising culture of Pakistan, would you like to shed some light on it?
A. Working on global brand is always easy but I wanted to build a culture of celebrating creativity and leadership. I was never afraid to take challenges and go against the herd. I proved it with my work and dedicated team. I would like to share the success case study for Huawei in Pakistan. When my team and I acquired the brand, it was a difficult start with bumpy road ahead of me. The brand faced tough opposition and with absolutely no brand love in the consumer eye. With determination, we were able to break the existing big telecommunication hardware giants share. We devised strong culturally relevant advertising, touching the audience’s heart inside their very core. With the right advertising mix, the campaigns proved to be highly effective and relevant. In terms of brand salience, the brand was able to bridge the gap between the global reality and the local perception.
Q. How tough is it to manage three offices with over 150 employees?
A. Initially it was tough to adjust to the system, understanding the industry dynamics, struggling achieve client’s trust and develop a partnership. I adopted the simple approach of one team-one dream approach. With time the processes worked and I devised the right channels for people to work. I streamlined the reporting processes and chose people according to their skill set and aptitude. I aim to build a culture of specialization and cultural diversity. I believe age diversity makes advertising very unique and strong profession. I culminated the culture where different generations mentor each other at work, with wisdom flowing from old to young and young to old alike.
Q. Tell us your favorite ad campaign that you were most proud of and why?
A. Making ads is a part of my daily routine, therefore I believe in putting my heart in every campaign. Previously, a few years back a campaign that I enjoyed working on was Servis Tyres “Chalti Rahay Zindagi”. The brand struggled with the issues such low brand perception, commoditization and therefore lower sales margin despite of the superior product. We designed an ideation to trigger the consumer’s insight i.e. the freewill coming with the smooth bike ride. The campaign had a gained great audience popularity, the powerfully star studded campaign was shot on great scenic locations, helping to establish the perfect blend of functional and emotional communication.
Q. Any message you would like to give to the young people who want to join advertising?
A. Never say never. Always yearn to learn more, because there is no definite limit to learn in an industry as competitive as advertising. Always try to push the envelope and once you do, don’t stop! Every day teaches something new so always welcome knowledge, new ideas and innovation with open arms.