Advertisers cash in on campaign fever


Spurred by a lull in Taliban attacks and the prospect of general elections within months, the country’s politicians are consumed by campaign fever, spelling boom times for the advertising industry.
The feudal landlords and billionaire industrialists, who have dominated politics for decades, were shocked to the core when retired cricketer Imran Khan managed to attract a crowd of 100,000 in Lahore.
His call for a new kind of politics, fervent nationalism and an end to the war on terror resonates widely among the emerging urban, middle-class in the country of 174 million well versed in the corruption of their leaders.
Anxious to halt Khan in his tracks, other political and religious parties have followed suit, organising public rallies with an eye on an election, which most now predict will be held either by April or in September or October.
The relative decline in attacks – 132 people killed in the last four months compared to more than 454 from May 1 to August 31 – have made rallies a lucrative spin off business for advertising and publicity agents.
Red placards shrieking in bold black “Sit-In Against Corruption” from the largest religious party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) greet those turning off the motorway into Lahore.
Billboards scream out Khan’s hopes for change while multi-coloured banners from the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and opposition Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) competed in wishing minority Christians a happy Christmas.
Those in the trade say there has not been such a boom since the 2008 elections swept the PPP to power after nine years of military rule.
“Political activities have started and attacks have stopped. There will be a boom in our business now,” says 60-year-old Muhammad Mushtaq, who prints banners in Lahore’s Royal Park market.
Sitting on the ground in the winter sunshine outside his small shop, Mushtaq said the last few years had been the worst in his life.
“I earned good money in the past but terrorism spoilt everything. I hope the fresh campaigns and upcoming elections will enhance our business,” he said.
He said he made $300 in profit from running off 400 banners for Khan’s rally in October, has paid off his debts and is now hoping to make Rs 500,000 from the election season.
Mass outpourings over issues other than gas and electricity cuts are rare in the country, so election seasons see a big uptake in rallies.
“Generally the economy goes up one percent in election years,” said Farooq Hassan, secretary general of the Advertising Association of Pakistan, who is this year predicting a growth of three percent in the advertising industry.
“We have seen some rallies so far… As the elections come closer, TV and radio advertisements will also start,” he added.
Iftikhar Ahmed, a printer who makes banners for PML-N and Jamaat-ud-Dawa in Lahore, is also looking forward to major profits in 2012.
“We cut half our staff in previous months because business was very bad. Now we’re planning to re-employ them all because we expect business worth at least Rs 1 million,” he said.
But Ahmed said the trick was to get clients to pay up front, warning that after the polls it could be a different story.
“If they win the elections, it’s very difficult to get our money because they become powerful… and if they lose, they simply say ‘we’ve got huge losses and can’t pay’.”
AB Nadeem, a senior member of the Punjab Outdoor Publicity Association, said he expected political parties to sink Rs 7 billion into advertising ahead of the next elections.
“Imran Khan’s rallies in Lahore and Karachi, and his promotion strategy have set new precedents,” he told AFP.
“We expect the major parties to hire top advertising and PR firms for their campaigns, so we expect to see a major increase in the advertising budget.”
Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf and PML-N refused to divulge numbers, but said they would plough everything into convincing the electorate before polling day.