Impact BBDO’s Ali Rez speaks to LBB’s Natasha Patel about the industry in Pakistan and the value of creating campaigns for good
As the regional executive creative director at Impact BBDO in both the Middle East and Pakistan, Ali Rez is a man with a lot of talent and flair for creativity that has been used to make a change for good. The past few years have seen Ali and his team creative campaigns centred around child brides, missing children and breaking down taboos typical of the regions he works in.
As a self-proclaimed travel lover, working across Impact BBDO’s offices has been a constant source of inspiration, however due to the Covid-19 pandemic Ali is hunkered down in Dubai, (he usually splits his time between there and Pakistan). But, he believes a lack of presence in a particular region shouldn’t be barrier about learning about its culture and society. In particular, working on and having seen a rise in domestic violence cases in Lebanon due to the current lockdown, Ali is of the belief that he can echo his findings in different parts of the world. “A domestic violence case in Lebanon will have some sort of human insight that will be very similar to a domestic violence case in Pakistan. Human complexities are somewhat similar across the world, it’s just the dressing of them that are culturally different”.
Being able to understand these different cultures is key to Ali who began his career in San Francisco before transitioning over to the Middle East and Asia. Whilst working on the Child Bride Uniform campaign with UN Women he was surprised to be told that the team were researching other countries where the project would be relevant and deemed the United States on such country. Ali says, “Its one of those things that you say you wouldn’t even think of. That’s what’s surprising. The dressing of it is different in both those cultures but the human complexities are just the same.”
He adds: “An application of an idea and the language you deliver it in might be different, the insight of how you connect with your audience might be different but what you’re trying to set out to do might be very similar no matter where you are. The fundamentals are the same, it’s just the insight generation that creates the difference”.
This particular campaign took place at HUM Bridal Couture Week in Lahore and in collaboration with fashion designer Ali Xeeshan, the finale of the show saw a youngster walking down the ramp in school uniform while being decked out in jewels typical of a bride in that region. Having such a big platform was part of the success of the campaign because the team at Impact BBDO knew they would be in the presence of plenty of media. The goal of the company was to impact positively the life of one child, but in the process their powerful statement ended up changing the law of the country to protect young girls with the issue now being debated with members of the Pakistani council further. This particular project has gone around the world with UN Women and was in talks to be a part of this year’s New York Fashion Week before the pandemic halted it.
Creating positive social and cultural change is a core part of the identity of Impact BBDO who set a goal each year for every office to work on a minimum of three CSR projects. One such campaign was for commercial client Berger Paints using the local practice of truck art drawings to find missing children. The team worked with a local NGO to gather images of the 20 latest missing children and paint their faces on the side of trucks. The outcome of this project was incredible with over 5,000 calls and as of today eight of those missing children have been located. The governor of the province in Pakistan is now talking about doing a second round of the trucks and make it part of police investigations. Ali says, “It was very, very emotionally gratifying knowing that we could do something that would have an impact on so many peoples lives”.
He adds: “We’ll constantly look for opportunities and I think it comes from the philosophy that we work in an industry where our job is to convince people to do things. Usually to buy certain products and change their mindsets - and if that applies to any commercial product then it applies to any everyday philosophy of living as well.”
The CSR projects have had a huge impact on the general livelihoods of the country, but what of the advertising industry and the desires of consumers? Ali references Pakistanis’ love of music and huge interest of user-generated content – something the Western world has been inundated with due to Coronavirus filming restrictions. “It’s super rapid, super topical. In a lot of cases it’s super intelligent and eventually that is going to over take how advertising is formulated in Pakistan.” That the country is at the forefront of many trends shouldn’t be surprising – the median age in the country is 22.8 years. “There’s a lot more awareness of what people want to see in advertising. It’s a very young population, the majority of Pakistanis are younger people and therefore that will drive the industry to a much, much cooler place.”
A rise in digital content in the region has led to a rise in independent filmmakers and younger production units shooting in the country – it used to be far more common to shoot commercials for the market abroad. Ali says that there has been a shift to more textured, intimate and relatable creative. “Pakistan, for the longest time, had a lot of emphasis on gloss and scale but you can see the shift happening towards meaningful content based on storytelling or realistic depictions of everyday life. As long as it’s entertaining, people do take it on. It’s not only about scale and gloss and bigness its about more meaningful connections now”.
With all of these new and innovative ways of working, plus an increase in commercials designed to do good, what is next for Ali and his team? “The hope is the best at what we do and we have achieved that somewhat in terms of the kind of work we create”, he says. He adds that he’s also really proud that the work of Impact BBDO has helped to shine a creative spotlight on Pakistan, a country that, until recent years, had been somewhat overlooked by the global creative industry. Ali adds, “I think the goal is to remain at that level where you create really incredible work but through it bring success to the commercial value of the clients you are working with. Also through meaningful projects bring about real change”.