There was a time when jingles in TV commercials were the reason why people looked forward to the twice-in-an-hour break during dramas. Those were the days when content was king and ads were played during episodes, not the other way round as is the case these days. Even with so much airtime, with so many channels and with so many avenues to impress the audience, TV commercials in Pakistan are easily the worst in the region. In fact, one must commend the jury of PAS Awards for selecting the better amongst the worst every year as very few TV commercials make any mark before fading away for good.

The iconic ad maker, Saeed Rizvi, who had the distinction of directing over 2500 TV commercials between the 70’s and the 90’s feels that the creative guys aren’t creative enough and blames the clients for dictating the agency. “In our days, we used to work hard on the jingles as that was a powerful way to convey the message to the audience. There were many commercials where we had to redo the song as the one provided by the creative people was off the mark; the client didn’t interfere as long as he was getting a good product and that made the agency raise the bar. Sadly, these days the client decides everything, which is why we don’t get creative jingles or commercials.”

Saeed Rizvi claims that all of his ads in those days were approved without any reshooting because the client’s involvement was minimum and the agency stood by its directors. He added that back then, leading clients used to listen to the shot-wise script and rough jingles, a practice that is not being followed today. “People like Hakim Saeed of Hamdard, Usman Allah Wala, Sultan Lakhani, Tariq Ikram of Reckitt & Coleman, Tariq Mohsin of Pakland Cement, Mian Jawed of Mayfair Sweets, Sherazi sahab of Honda and Arif sahab of Pepsi used to be patient when the ad was being conceived (on paper) and would let the agency decide rather than give suggestions.”

As someone who has spent a few years at an advertising agency, I must agree to Saeed Rizvi’s comments. The client appoints one of its own as the approver – one who approves the copy -and no matter who writes it, they will make suggestions as if they were born with a silver pen. Renowned music director and actor Arshad Mehmud once said that he is perhaps the only person who convinced the legendary Faiz Ahmed Faiz to write a jingle for TV. “I had been very close with Faiz Ahmed Faiz sahab during the 70’s and the 80’s, which is not known to all. Faiz sahab sent Farooq Qaiser, of Kalyaan fame, to some international conference and I was left with no poet as Farooq used to write my jingles. I approached Faiz sahab who declined to write after hearing the brief of my product. Later on, he called me up and asked me to write the lines he was reciting. Sadly, that jingle never made it on air because a) no one believed that Faiz Ahmed Faiz had written it for me and b) because the client thought that the lines could have been better.”

Who could have written it better than the legendary poet, remains the question!

There was another incident where renowned Urdu poet and linguist Shan ul Haq Haqqee refused to change the lines of his jingle on the client’s insistence because in his opinion, the original lines were better. That was in the 60’s when there were less ad agencies and a growing number of audience. The Chai Chahiye commercial was a hit in those days (and continues to be even today), featuring filmstar Nirala whereas the remake some 40 years later fizzled out without making an impact.

A discussion with the late Junaid Jamshed a few years back also gave me a lot of insight into the world of jingles. The pop-star-turned-religious-scholar was one of the few successful vocalists to give hit jingles including Nido’s Meri Pyari Ammi Jan and Oxford Sweaters, and believed that by providing his vocals for jingles, he was learning rather than doing it as a job. “When you are inside the recording studio, getting instructions from someone who has given the composition his 100% and is not part of your group – that’s where you get to learn a lot from. You were not part of the creative process so whoever created it must have had some reason for doing so. I don’t interfere with the music composers because it is their thing and I happily sing in any manner they want me to sing.”

Internet has changed the life of an average Pakistani as everyone now has access to YouTube, including music composers who can easily listen to any foreign song and localize it as their own. That is one of the main reasons why music in Pakistan is on a decline as with no original score, there can be no original ad. Art Director turned Film Producer Mehnaz Alavi Diwan believes that change in focus has changed it all. “These days, an ad is all about visuals and everyone’s focus is now more on visuals. The jingles used to run on radio so there was more focus on them, but since it’s the digital age, people like to see more versus hearing. In the past, a commercial, any commercial, would have a story and the message was conveyed through music while now, it’s the exact opposite – it’s more talkie.”

Music composer and vocalist Abbas Ali Khan is one of the most in-demand jingle composers these days. For someone who composes background scores for films and occasionally composes film songs, does not composing a jingle seem like a step back especially when it does not register as per the composer’s expectation? “For me, it’s not a step back, but a chance to try out things that I cannot in songs and films. I take commercials as a challenge since it is different from background score or composing film songs. In simple words, it helps me fulfil my tharak as a music producer!”

However, Abbas agrees that until and unless our producers become fearless, things will not get better in the ad industry. “In India, they have a developed advertising industry unlike ours mostly because the client has become fearless and welcomes weird ideas and concepts. They trust the composers and have faith on their abilities to follow the brief, which is not the case here; we get inspired from them and sometimes even get references from across the border which is not how it should be. In the projects where the client gives us a free hand, we usually come up with better work.’

The last TV commercial that had a catchy jingle – in fact the last few with catchy jingles – were all created by the team behind Ufone commercials. Be it Yeh Ada Teri Mera Dil Churaye or Teri Meherbani ads, the audience remembers the humor as well as the songs that seemed perfect for a TVC. Ahsan Rahim who directed those commercials believes that when the client trusts the agency, miracles happen. “Shani Arshad is the man behind these jingles – a true genius. Because we were given a freehand by Ufone that helped us in coming up with some good work – be it jingles or visuals.”

Pakistan’s advertising industry is one of the largest in the region, but in order to be amongst the better ones, it has to take drastic steps. Not only should the clients grow up but also give space to the agency that has professional people for the right job. That is one of the many ways through which we can have good commercials return to TV, a medium that currently suffers from mediocrity and does not produce a single memorable commercial that’s original.

Abbas Ali Khan concludes with his comments on why we don’t remember ads like we used to. “In the 80’s and 90’s, there were just one or two channels while now we have too many of them where we have more commercials and less air time. Too many ads come and go creating a sort of clutter where you don’t remember much. It is not that we don’t have talent but that the audience is divided; whenever these same composers make music for songs or films, they come up with amazing compositions because they get a free hand. Give composers a free hand instead of a set brief and poetry and I am certain they will come up with brilliant compositions.”

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Omair Alavi is a showbiz and sports journalists who has been around for over two decades and is currently part of the Voice of America team in Karachi and his by-line continues to appear in leading weeklies and websites.