Manipulative advertising | Pakistan Today

Manipulative advertising

  • Our country does need us

Advertising is not meant to be simply inane jingles and cavorting models, although it often is; there is supposed to be some serious psychology behind the exercise, and only then can a product be sold. The best advertisements keep in mind the target audience’s psychographics, which define consumers according to their ‘personality, values, opinions, attitudes, interests and lifestyle.’ Effective advertising in short figures out what makes consumers tick and aims its message squarely at that. Therefore ‘Ae Khuda mere Abu salamat rahain,’ which sells life insurance using a jingle sung by a sweet little girl, would have listeners saying ‘amen’ every time in a society where emotion takes a firm upper hand.

Some of the best advertising in the world such as Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ puts its finger right on the ‘dukti rug’ of not being able to get started on a challenge. Just do it, it says. Don’t think about it, run that marathon, jog an extra mile every morning, just do it. And the audience does, or at least wears Nike while it thinks about it.

But there is also the less innocuous advertising, such as the commercial that pushes the New York Times broadsheet by means of images of Syrian refugees, images that speak of “fear, desperation and hope”. The commercial asks viewers to “think about how bad it must be in their country” that ‘they’ put their families in such precarious rafts (shown) to seek a life elsewhere. “The truth is hard to find,” it says. “The truth is worth pursuing.” And, it says, the New York Times does that. Here the bleak, tragic lives of refugees are being used to make money. Here is manipulation at its most sickening because the words ‘refugees’, and the images of laden boats of broken, shattered humans including children resonates with viewers, particularly in the West. Such manipulation, apparent only when one thinks about it is enough to make a person not buy the New York Times. Ever. This angle would not have worked as well in a third world country where we are used to seeing broken, shattered humans including children all around us with our own eyes. Here, there are other things. Here what works is the weepy sort of emotion of the sort in the mere abu commercial. Here everything – including religion — is infused with generous helpings of that sentiment, if sentiment is a behaviour pattern that is strong and fixed, ‘typically based on emotions and beliefs, and often disconnected from reality, reason or logic.’ Once that connection is made religion is used ruthlessly.

Somewhere where DHA meets the Cantonment in Lahore is a wall of five posters, showing five shaheed army personnel who laid down their lives to keep the country safe for which the country definitely owes them a debt of gratitude. Each poster has the sentence ‘Join the army’ underneath. There can be little doubt what that plays on. In a country where religion makes people tick, where along with everything else religion is infused with sentiment to the extent that all reason has been knocked out of it, joining the ranks of martyrs is likely to be a huge inducement. There is little one can say to counter this sentiment in Pakistan. It would be resented, it would be misunderstood, it would not be tolerated.

In one of his articles some years ago, Dr Khalid Zaheer, a religious scholar speaks of the definition of a shaheed, saying that there is ample evidence in the Quran to say that the status of a shaheed is one to be bestowed on a man by God alone

In one of his articles some years ago, Dr Khalid Zaheer, a religious scholar speaks of the definition of a shaheed, saying that there is ample evidence in the Quran to say that the status of a shaheed is one to be bestowed on a man by God alone, not by his fellow humans. He points out that in Urdu, Hindi and Bengali, the term ‘shaheed’ is used to honour a person who dies in a war or an accident and has no relationship with the actual religious meaning and with what the Quran says.

But who knows this.

So, what does this advertisement say except that it places the employer in the exalted position of being able to grant its employees access to heaven? Heaven is not the place for mines and bombs, guns, mortar and explosions. It does not generate amputees, widows and orphans. You are not required to defend your borders or your country in heaven. This is glorifying war, and it places the armed forces where they become untouchable. The public ought to resent such manipulation. It would be much better to simply say ‘Your Country Needs YOU’ as the Allies did during the World War. That at least says it as it is. Our country does need us. In every way.

Rabia Ahmed

The writer is a freelance columnist. Read more by her at