Ad Asia, the largest and most prestigious advertising congress in Asia, organized bi-annually by the Asian Federation of Advertising Associations (AFAA), has made its way back to Pakistan after 30 long years. This time, with the theme of ‘Celebrasian: Celebration of Advertising and Creativity in Asia’, the three-day Congress began on December 3, at Alhamra Arts Council in Lahore. This is the second Ad Asia to take place in Pakistan, the first of which was held in 1989.

The opening ceremony of Ad Asia took place at Hazuri Bagh in Lahore’s Walled City on the evening of December 2. Hosted by Mikaal Zulfiqar and Naveen Waqar, the event opened with an address by the head of the Organizing Committee, Sarmad Ali. He welcomed the many delegates and speakers and expressed his pleasure at having Ad Asia return to Pakistan. Following him, Seema Jaffer, Vice Chairperson, PAA; Raymond So, Chairman, Asian Federation of Advertising Association (AAFA); and Richard Quest, journalist and business editor, CNN, welcomed the audience. The band Bayaan, winner of Pepsi Battle of the Bands 2018, performed for the attendees, adding to the festivities of the night.

Sarmad Ali, head of the Organizing Committee of AdAsia, on stage for his welcome address.

Day one of the conference, also called the Congress, began with the welcome address by Javed Jabbar, Honorary Chairman, Ad Asia, after which Maya Wattano, CEO, Denstu Aegis Network Asia and head of the Organizing Committee of Ad Asia 2017, formally passed the baton of Ad Asia to Sarmad Ali. AFAA announced several of their awards and presented the Asia Leadership Award to Khawar Butt, Founder & Chairman of English Biscuit Manufacturers (EBM.)

Richard Quest in the crowd.

The first session began with a conversation between Sir Martin Sorrell, Founder of S4 Capital and Richard Quest. Sir Martin advocated the use of data to supplement creativity, propelling advertising to new heights and making it more effective.

Next Ali Rez, Regional Executive Creative Director, BBDO, focused on the ability of advertising to have an impact in the world. Citing campaigns that encouraged a change in societal perceptions and norms, such as MoltyFoam’s Billbeds and Ariel’s #DadsShareTheLoadToo, discrediting the opinion that cause-based campaigns do not increase sales. Following Rez was Yasuharu Sasaki, ECD, Dentsu, who believes that technology is the road to salvation for creative & effective solutions that resonate with the consumers.

In the afternoon, Richard Quest returns with a presentation on the importance of people in leadership roles believing and pushing for their business’ moral core values. Serving as an example for not only the employees of the business but for the people of the community.

The last session of day one featured Atiqa Odho and Fawad Khan speaking on the impact of being actors on their private lives and the ethics they must follow in being brand ambassadors. After which a celebration and dinner at the Lahore Food Street brought day one to a close.

TGH Collective, Founder, Tay Guan Hin on stage. 

The first session of day two spoke of Imperfect Beauty lead by Tay Guan Hin, Founder of TGH Collective. His presentation centered on the imperfections of humans that truly appealed to others, making them ‘perfect.’ To illustrate his point, he cited several ads, from companies such as Volvo, Pepsi, and stated that imperfections make things beautiful and that imperfect stories in a brand are what allow people to connect with the brand. This was followed by an impromptu conversation, as a replacement for a session whose speaker could between Faraz Maqsood Hamidi and Shahzad Nawaz, two of Pakistan’s most creative minds – the “Mad Men” as Sarmad Ali called them. Their conversation circled around the motif that both of them utilized in their work for PIA and the ISPR – the Markhor. There was an overflowing amount of tension between the two creative giants, which proved to be a source of amusement for the audience.

The day featured two women-centric sessions; the first, led by Samina Baig, the youngest woman ever to have climbed Mount Everest, and the second, on Woman and Power, a panel with Dr. Zeelaf Munir, Managing Director and CEO, English Biscuit Manufacturers; Frieha Altaf, CEO Catwalk Event Management & Production; and Seema Jaffer, CEO, Bond Advertising. The panel was moderated by Atifa Silk, Editor Campaign Asia. These proved to be more inspirational than informative as they encouraged women to take charge, without paying heed to how others may perceive them; and encouraged organizations to hire more women on account of their soft-skills. Altaf, however, elaborated on the stigma associated with workplace environments where it is not uncommon to face harassment, which discourages families from allowing their daughters to enter the workforce.

Seema Jaffar, CEO Bond Advertising and Frieha Altaf, CEO Catwalk Event Management on stage.

Atifa Silk, moderating the session of Women and Power.

The last session of the day featured the Former Commercial Director, Head of Marketing and Digital Media of Manchester United, Vange Kourentis. He spoke of the journey of the brand that is Manchester United; from the creation of museums, restaurants, and stadiums for the sake of connecting with their global fans. After the sessions and a short break, dinner took place in Allama Iqbal Park with Arif Lohar and his band as the night’s entertainment.

Randi Zuckerburg speaking on the complexity of social media.


Next to present was Tom Goodwin, Head of Innovation, Zenith Media, speaking on The New Rules for Businesses in the Post Digital Age. He followed Zuckerberg’s line of thinking stating that we are in an age where we do not understand the impact technology has. He commended start-ups, Pakistani start-ups in particular, because of the manner in which they understand consumer behavior and ‘construct something out of nothing.

Day three featured big names, perhaps the most anticipated was Randi Zuckerberg, CEO, Zuckerberg Media. Zuckerberg left Facebook shortly after the development of Facebook Live. She spoke on the responsibility with regard to technology, in light of the airing of a Mosque Shooting in New Zealand, streamed on Facebook Live. She believes that it is imperative to understand the impact technology has on people, and that it is important to unplug to even have the time to change the world.

Salima Hashmi on stage for her panel on Pakistani Art

A panel discussion on Pakistani Art: Romancing the Future, featured a conversation between artists Salima Hashmi, Rashid Rana, and Adeela Suleman. They praised the female artists that have worked on ‘returning the male gaze with courage.’ A contrasting presentation followed on cricket by Wasim Khan, MBE, CEO, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB.) He spoke of the evolution of PSL, how it had transformed from a sport to entertainment. The next session by Edward Pank. MD, WARC Asia, stressed the importance of measuring the effectiveness of advertising in Asia, and shifting the focus from short-term gains to long-term ones. His session was interrupted by the arrival of the President of Pakistan, Dr. Arif Alvi. He spoke on media ethics and the increasing amount of fake news perpetuated through the digital world, cautioning advertising companies to be vary of blurring the lines between the truth and advertising. After the president’s address, Fernando Machado, Global CMO, Burger King made his debut. He highlighted the things to be done to build a successful brand: understanding the consumers; using a strong, impressionable brief; letting the idea grow; have the courage to implement a risky strategy; and working as a team within the brand and the agency.

The audience joins in on the festivities

The day ended with a Macau Night hosted by the Macau Organization Committee for Ad Asia 2021. Entertainment for the night included traditional Martial Arts dances performed by Pakistan students, and a dancer from China. The three days of the Congress brought abundant amounts of inspiration to the attendees and speakers. The event served as a platform for the exchange of ideas to allow the growth of the industry in a variety of avenues.

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